When should dental care begin?
A baby’s dental care should begin even before their teeth have appeared. Care begins with cleaning the baby’s gums, and continues from there on. Their primary teeth will be a part of your baby’s eating, speaking, and appearance in their early years. Moreover, some of those primary teeth will be with your child until 12 or 13 years of age.
Baby teeth usually start to appear when a child is from 6 to nine months of age. Even these tiny teeth should be cleaned following each feeding.
Infant toothbrushes exist, but even before they are appropriate the teeth and gums can be gently wiped with a clean wet cloth. Remember that even baby teeth can get cavities, just like those of people of any age.
Preventing infant cavities
In addition to cleaning after each feeding (and I know, that can be often), a few other things can help prevent infant cavities.
- If they are bottle feeding, don’t let your infant fall asleep with any fluids in their bottle other than straight water. Juices especially, and other drinks as well, can do a lot of damage to an infant’s teeth when they are left with a bottle as the child will fall asleep with their mouth filled with material that oral bacteria will readily use as food. When this happens, the bacteria produce acids that weaken the enamel on the teeth, permitting dental decay to start.
- If it’s extremely difficult to clean teeth and gums after feeding, do it before. Some cleaning is better than none.
- If your infant is nursing instead of bottle feeding, regular tooth and gum cleaning remains important, just as with bottle feeding.
- Avoid frequent snacking, especially on sticky or sugary foods.
- Offer water between feedings.
- Avoid getting your saliva into your child’s mouth, as might happen when licking a pacifier to clean it before returning it to your child. This will avoid transferring cavity-causing bacteria.
As a general rule, minimize the amount of time that sugars (in whatever form) are in your child’s mouth.
To comfort your infant when they are teething, try supplying them with a teething ring or teething toy. Avoid teething cookies, which can stick to your child’s teeth, causing tooth decay.
Check with your dentist or doctor before using teething ointments or gels.
Soothers and pacifiers
While soothers or pacifiers may help your child sleep or feel calm, a couple of considerations should be kept in mind should you choose to use them:
Uuse the correct size for your child’s mouth
Keep the pacifier clean
Don’t sweeten the pacifier with honey or other sugars that can cause tooth decay
Limit their use to bedtime
Phase out pacifiers at the latest once all baby teeth have grown, to prevent impeding speech development
The Canadian Dental Association recommends fluoride as a means of preventing tooth decay, as it strengthens tooth enamel. One means of getting fluoride is in toothpastes that contain fluoride (the presence of fluoride will be indicated on the toothpaste packaging).
Additionally, sometimes fluoride occurs naturally and sometimes it is added to municipal water supplies. Your source of water – tap water, well water, bottled water – with therefore affect fluoride intake. Also, sometimes fluoride is applied at dental visits.
This variety of sources means that determining your child’s fluoride requirement depends on a number of factors; check with your dentist for a recommendation to suit your child’s particular circumstances.
Going to the dentist
Your child’s first visit to the dentist should be about six months after their first tooth appears . . . typically that visit will be when they are about one year old. At that time, discuss with your dentist what is best for your child’s food, fluoride, and dental needs.