What could be better than a baby’s smile? Those adorable gummy grins are just the best. By about six months old, most babies sprout their first teeth. That means you need to start protecting those pearly whites right away. Here are a few essentials to take great care of baby teeth.
Why Baby Teeth Are So Important
Baby teeth may seem almost disposable. After all, they’ll fall out in a few years and be replaced by permanent teeth, right? So why bother worrying about them? A child’s first set of teeth must last years. In fact, on average a child’s last baby teeth don’t fall out until they’re anywhere from ten to thirteen years old. But what happens if baby teeth are compromised or lost too early?
In the case that baby teeth are knocked out or must be pulled early due to decay that can’t be repaired, their neighbors are at risk for shifting. Migrating baby teeth can make it more difficult for the permanent teeth to come in when they should. It can likewise encourage crowding or poor alignment in permanent teeth. That’s why it is so important to protect those baby teeth until they’re ready to come out.
Unfortunately, cavities are the most common preventable childhood illness in the US. In fact, a recent study showed that nearly 25% of children have needs for dental restorations by the time of their first dental visit. Decay can be incredibly damaging to primary teeth, and it is essential that we do what we can to protect them.
Caring for Baby’s Teeth
The good news is there is a lot you can do to protect those precious pearly whites, right from the beginning. You can start laying the groundwork for great dental habits even before your baby has sprouted their first tooth. At bath time, run a damp, soft washcloth inside baby’s mouth. Use it to massage their gums and wipe between the gums and cheeks. Not only will this help keep their mouth clean, it will also alert you to changes like new teeth trying to come in. Most importantly, it will get baby accustomed to letting you work in their mouth, which should make brushing a bit easier later on.
Start Brushing Early
When should you start brushing your baby’s teeth? Technically, as soon as they show up! However, it can be really difficult to use a toothbrush effectively on those tiny first couple of teeth with a squirmy baby attached. That same washcloth can be used to carefully wipe and polish baby teeth until the child is big enough to use a baby toothbrush. There are also intermediate devices that can be used, such as a fingertip brush, and toothbrush teethers like the banana brush that can also help.
Toothpastes for Baby Teeth
At first, just use warm water to massage baby’s gums. Once those first front teeth erupt, toothpaste will help protect their enamel. The ADA recommends using a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice, until the child can dependably spit, at which time a pea-sized amount can be used.
If you’re hesitant to use fluoride until your baby will spit out the foam, you can use a fluoride-free paste instead. We highly recommend finding one with xyletol, which is a cavity-preventing alternative. Once those baby molars make their appearance, however, it is essential to transition to a small amount of fluoride paste to give your child the best protection against cavities.
When to Get Baby’s First Dental Exam
It’s important to start your child on a regular dental check-up schedule early in their life. Some dentists recommend a dental visit as soon as baby’s first tooth comes in. Your pediatrician may also check your baby’s oral health at their regular check-ups. While we certainly can see babies in our office, we say it is a-okay to hold off until your child is closer to 3 or 4 years old.
If your child is outgoing and comfortable in medical settings, they may do well at a dental visit as early as 2 years old. However, if you child is timid or slow to warm up, they may need to wait until they’re a bit older to be able to handle their first dental visit. Of course, it’s never too early to set them up for success by following these tips!
Dental Don’ts for Baby Teeth
There are some bad habits that no amount of careful brushing will counteract. Never put your baby to bed with a bottle of milk in their crib. Milk contains sugars which can lead to aggressive tooth decay known as baby bottle rot. These rampant cavities can be disastrous for fragile baby teeth. It’s okay to get your baby to drift off with a bottle, and breast milk typically has less risk for decay than formula. Just don’t leave the bottle for your baby or toddler to sip on through the night.
The usual food-related warnings apply where baby teeth are concerned. Try to minimize high sugar foods, and be sure to cleanse the teeth after sugar exposure. Keep in mind that juice can be nearly as high in sugar as soda, and should ideally be a special treat and not a regular beverage.
Naturally, a balanced diet with lots of plants is a great way to improve oral health for kids and adults! Fortunately, small children love lots of tooth-healthy foods like apples, raisins, and cheese.
We are always here for you, and for your kiddos! If you have any questions or concerns about your small child’s oral health, don’t hesitate to call. Set up their first dental visit with us and let us keep their smiles as healthy as possible, Orlando!