It may be surprising for expecting parents to learn that babies need dental care, too. That’s because, even before they’re visible, an infant’s 20 primary teeth are already formed inside their jaw, ready to begin pushing their way through within just a few months of birth. With this in mind, it’s important to start habits during early infancy to help ensure their future dental health -- such as gently cleaning their mouths and gums after each feeding and before bed.
Until then? There are some other precautions expecting parents can take in order to encourage their baby’s future dental health -- including some things mothers can do even before giving birth. Let’s investigate some of these habits to see what your expecting family can start doing.
As we discussed recently, the time before birth impacts developing babies’ teeth significantly. Since layers of dentin and enamel start to form, and the mineralization of primary teeth begins near the second trimester, it’s especially important that pregnant women maintain proper nutrition and good dental habits. Just in case you missed it, you can read all the details here.
Once your baby has arrived, there are more direct things we can do to maintain their dental health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructs parents to do the following for their infant’s teeth:
Begin gently cleaning your baby’s mouth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist cloth after each feeding. Do the same at bedtime.
Be sure to only use clean pacifiers. Never dip them in syrup, honey, or other sweeteners.
Do not put your baby to bed with a bottle, regardless of whether it’s formula or breast milk.
Only water, milk, breast milk, or formula should be given in bottles. Never give a baby fruit juice or soft drinks. Note: The most common cause of tooth decay in young children is frequent, prolonged exposure of the teeth to sugary drinks.
Let them see you do dental health tasks daily, so they will mimic you. Most children will feel more comfortable trying something new if they see their parents doing it first. Make sure you brush and floss your teeth in front of them.
Try to avoid sharing utensils, sharing foods, or doing anything where your adult saliva would be introduced to your baby’s mouth. This sharing potentially introduces cavity-causing bacteria, like Streptococcus Mutans, to your child’s mouth. One study revealed that this harmful bacteria was present in over half of the infants participating in the study before any of their teeth had even erupted -- at only 6 months of age. One of the biggest factors associated with the presence of the bacteria was sharing foods with adults.
After The First Tooth Comes In
You can typically expect to notice your baby’s first tooth coming in between 4 to 6 months of age. Once it pops through, we’d like to schedule your little’s first dentist appointment!
Here at Jungle Roots, we find it’s optimal to begin seeing our patients by their first birthday, then usually every six months until they become an adult. It’s a great pace for developing a relationship, monitoring their changing teeth, and educating families on proper dental hygiene and nutrition. Additionally, in the sad event that your toddler or child has a dental emergency, it will help if they are already familiar and comfortable with us.
When the first tooth has erupted, it is also time to start brushing twice a day. Until your baby learns how to spit toothpaste out, you should only use a rice-sized amount of fluoride-free toothpaste on their toothbrushes. The American Dental Association suggests squeezing out only enough to equal the size of the grain of rice during this time. Use it to brush all the teeth in your child’s mouth. This should be your routine until your child can spit on their own, which usually takes place around age 3.
This age works well for starting children out flossing as too--if their teeth are touching in any areas of their mouth, that is. Parents will need to floss for them at first. Once your child shows an interest, it doesn’t hurt to let them practice with a piece of floss each day as well.
As your child gets more teeth, monitor their mouth and lips for any type of spots. Unusual white or brown spots could possibly be a sign of cavities, so we want to remain on top of any such changes.
After Age 3
Once a child can spit out their own toothpaste, parents can feel confident adding a bit more toothpaste with fluoride to their toothbrush, about a pea-size amount. Until your child can thoroughly brush on their own, have an adult brush the child’s teeth twice a day, so you can be sure to clean all the nooks and crannies of teeth that a child doesn’t yet have the dexterity to reach. Once they can do a great job on their own, usually around age 7, they can begin brushing their own teeth twice a day, with a little supervision. It may take another year or two for a child to be able to floss thoroughly, so be sure to check that all debris is being removed until you are confident your child can consistently clean their teeth well. It is worth the extra effort on your part because it often makes a difference in preventing cavities!
Here at Jungle Roots, we enjoy getting to know and work with your whole family. As each patient grows and develops their own unique set of teeth, it’s an honor to educate them and their parents through each phase of growth. We hope to hear from you anytime we can be of assistance and will be more than happy to schedule you in for an appointment at your request. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything during the milestones mentioned above or anytime in between!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.
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Brennan, Dan. “Baby Teeth Care: Brushing First Teeth, Teething, Gum Care, and More.” WebMD, WebMD, 18 Aug. 2019, www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/caring-babies-teeth#1.
“Children's Oral Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 Feb. 2021, www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/childrens-oral-health/index.html.
“Department of Health.” Infant and Children's Oral Health - Birth to 5 Years of Age, www.health.ny.gov/prevention/dental/birth_oral_health.htm.
Team, Children's Health. “Oral Care for Babies: How to Keep the Tiniest Teeth Healthy.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 13 Oct. 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/oral-care-for-babies-how-to-keep-the-tiniest-teeth-healthy/
Wan AK; Seow WK; Purdie DM; Bird PS; Walsh LJ; Tudehope DI; “A Longitudinal Study of Streptococcus Mutans Colonization in Infants after Tooth Eruption.” Journal of Dental Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12821708/.