Dental care for babies starts even before their teeth emerge and when they do, it is important to look after the teeth from the beginning. Baby teeth will allow an infant to chew their food, allow for proper jaw growth, assist in speech development and help adult teeth to grow into place properly.
Tooth decay in babies can lead to pain, infection, malnutrition, poor weight gain, and premature loss of teeth which can affect the development of permanent teeth. So making good oral care a priority in the care for your baby will increase the chance of a healthy mouth for your child as they grow older and will set them up well through to adulthood.
Baby Teeth Development
Babies are born with a full set of 20 baby teeth in their gums – 10 up the top and 10 down the bottom. Each baby tooth emerges slowly over several weeks or months. As it gets to the surface, the gum opens up to show the tooth.
Most first teeth appear between 6 and 10 months, but different children get teeth at different times. In some children, teeth appear as early as three months. In others, they don’t arrive until around 12 months. Most children will have their full set of baby teeth by three years of age.
It is a good idea to start cleaning your baby’s mouth and gums before teeth start to emerge.
To clean your baby’s mouth:
- Lay your baby in your lap with his or her head close to your chest.
- Gently, but firmly, rub a clean and damp piece of gauze or washcloth along both the upper and lower gums.
- Clean the gums at least two times a day after the first and last feed of the day. Cleaning your baby’s gums after every feed is even better.
Babies aged 0-6 months need only breastmilk or formula. When your baby’s old enough to drink something other than milk, water is the best option. Drinks with sugar in them can be a factor in tooth decay. If your baby likes a dummy, don’t dip it in food or liquids such as honey or sugar.
6 Months On
Your baby’s first tooth appears usually around 6-10 months and when it does, we recommend wiping the tooth a couple of times a day with a cloth. This keeps the residue from milk from sticking to the tooth. Also available are baby toothbrushes that fit on your finger, these have very soft bristles and can also be used to clean the tooth. This is a useful item to use, particularly as more teeth arrive.
To clean your baby’s teeth:
- You can begin cleaning your baby’s teeth at the change table. As the baby grows, knee to knee position becomes preferable. Bathrooms are usually too crowded and not safely set up for baby.
- Use a wet face washer, gauze or soft infant toothbrush designed for children under two years.
- Brush with water only at least twice a day, particularly after the first and last feeds.
Try to pick an appropriate time when you and your baby are not too tired. You can try to brush your baby’s teeth in front of a mirror to distract them if they are being uncooperative.
Baby teething usually occurs with little or no problems. However some infants or teething babies may experience issues such as rising of temperature, diarrhoea, dehydration, increased salivation, skin eruptions and stomach disturbances. Increasing their fluid consumption and using teething rings to apply cold pressure to the affected areas can help in reducing the symptoms, resulting in happier babies.
Do not try to puncture or lance the gum tissues to aid the eruption of the baby teeth. If the symptoms mentioned above continue to persist for more than 24 hours, the baby should be examined by a doctor to rule out any upper respiratory tract infection and any other disease conditions.
What causes baby bottle tooth decay and how can it be prevented?
Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by liquids containing sugars like, fruit juice, sodas, and other sweetened drinks. The sugars in these liquids promote bacteria that cause plaque. Shortly after, tooth decay can occur, resulting in what is called baby bottle tooth decay. You should be extremely careful when giving an infant a sweet drink at nap or night-time. Consumption of apple juice & sodas are the most common causes of baby bottle tooth decay. By the time the decay is noticed, it may be too late to save the child’s teeth. You can prevent this from happening to your child’s teeth by knowing how to protect them.
Tips on Dental Care for Babies
- Do not allow your baby to fall asleep while sucking on a bottle. This can lead to a condition called bottle mouth. Bottle mouth affects the front teeth and causes decay. As the name suggests it occurs when a baby is left to suckle on a bottle to go to sleep or for comfort.
- Only allow your baby to drink water or milk from a bottle. Introduce toothpaste specially made for children to your baby around the age of 2 years unless your dentist/ dental hygienist recommends otherwise.
- Use a pea sized amount of toothpaste. Encourage baby to spit and rinse.
- Never share a toothbrush with your baby as you may introduce harmful bacteria to their mouth.
- Avoid sharing spoons with your baby as you may introduce harmful bacteria to their mouth. This also applies to their dummy if they have one. Wash it under a running tap rather than in your mouth.
- Avoid foods that can cause decay.
- Start visits to the dentist from an early age. At About Smiles Kids, we recommend that you bring your baby in with you when your baby’s first tooth becomes visible or when he/she reaches 12 months old, whichever comes first