PUBLISHED ON 01/06/20
It’s important to start good dental health habits from your baby’s birth. In this article we’ll look at what you need to know to take care of your baby’s teeth.
We recommend your baby’s first dental visit at about 12 months of age. It’s a good idea to get them used to dental visits from this early age to avoid anxiety later on.
Start by wiping your baby’s gums with a warm, moistened face washer after every feed to remove food particles. This gets babies used to having their mouth cleaned. Once baby teeth start appearing, you can switch to a baby’s toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head, using plain water to brush.
Tip: Sharing spoons or tasting baby’s food with the same spoon can transfer decay-causing bacteria to them.
A baby’s first tooth usually ‘erupts’ (breaks through the gums) at 6 months, though it can occur earlier or later. The average child has a full set of 20 primary teeth by the age of about three years.
Pain and discomfort during teething
New teeth breaking through can usually cause discomfort in babies. Signs to look out for include:
– frequent crying
– a slight fever
– reddened cheeks and drooling
– appetite loss
– sucking or chewing on toys
– pulling of the ear on the same side as the erupting tooth
To ease discomfort, you can use a dummy, teething ring or wet washcloth for your baby to bite. Teething rings can be chilled before use to help manage the swelling and pain of the gums. DO NOT put teething ring in the freezer. If the fever continues take your child to a doctor, and seek advice from your dentist before using any pain relievers or gels that contain a local anaesthetic.
Your child’s first teeth are just as important as their permanent ones; they keep the correct space in the gums for when the permanent teeth eventually come through. Babies are at risk of losing primary teeth too early if they develop caries (decay).
Main risk factors for Early Childhood Caries (ECC):
– settling the baby with milk, sweetened milk, fruit juice or cordial (bacteria feed on the sugar in these drinks and form a sticky coating of plaque. Plaque acids eat into tooth enamel and cause decay.)
– night-time bottle feeding or frequent at-will breastfeeding after the age of 12 months
– a high sugar diet with frequent snacking
– poor brushing/flossing habits
– sleep-behaviour issues
– certain oral health problems, such as dry mouth (lack of saliva) and mouth breathing
Tips to prevent ECC:
– daily brushing and flossing of your baby’s teeth
– good, balanced nutrition
– using a bottle of plain water or a plain dummy if your child likes to suck on something while settling to sleep. Do not dip a dummy in honey or other sweet syrups, jams or similar products.
– low-fluoride toothpaste
– regular visits to the dentist
– teaching your baby to drink from a cup by about 12 months of age.
– phasing out bottle-feeding by about 12 months of age.
– drinking water. As fruit juice contains a lot of sugar, limit it to one-half cup per day, preferably diluted.
– your child’s first visit to a dentist should be at about one year of age.
Three types of ECC:
– Baby bottle caries: This occurs when a baby goes to sleep with a bottle containing milk, condensed or flavoured milk, fruit juice, cordial, sports drinks, vitamin syrups or similar sweet liquids.
– Honey dummy caries: This occurs when a baby dummy or pacifier is dipped into honey, jam, sugar, condensed milk, rosehip syrup, glycerine or other sweet products.
– Frequent on-demand breastfeeding caries: Also known as nursing mouth and nursing caries, these are caused by frequent breastfeeding.
Sucking is a natural reflex in babies and young children. Most kids lose interest in thumb sucking between 2-4 years old, however some continue the habit. If your child continues sucking after permanent teeth have erupted, it can lead to crooked teeth or speech impediments. Try to encourage them to give it up, and if you need to come and see us for specific advice.
For more information on child-specific dentistry, head to our Kids Dentistry page.
If you’re ready to book an appointment, you can book online here.
Source: The ADA’s Dental Care For Babies And Young Children Factsheet, Edition 3