From the minute they’re born, parents want to do the best for their children. This should include giving them the best head start for a healthy mouth and healthy dental habits. The CDC states that tooth decay is perhaps the most prevalent infectious disease to U.S. children with more than 40 percent of children having decay prior to starting kindergarten. When it comes to infant dental care, there are a few things that jump to the top of the priority list.
An infant’s immune system is weak and still developing; however, knowing this doesn’t always stop parents from transferring the germs they carry in their own mouths to their children. How so? The most common method is by “cleaning” off a dirty pacifier or bottle by placing it in their mouth prior to giving it to the baby. As adults, we have more and different bacteria in our mouth than an infant does. When a parent shares a spoon or puts a pacifier in their own mouth and then gives it to their baby, it is introducing many new types of bacteria into their infant’s oral cavity. This is a a common practice, but a simple change in habit can greatly benefit your infant.
There are a few signs to look for and tricks to help protect your infant’s new teeth. An infant will typically start to teeth between four and eight months. Usually, the lower central incisors are the first to appear. Signs that may indicate a teething baby include drooling, ill temper and restlessness, rash around the mouth, fever, and diarrhea.
To help sooth some of the discomfort, wet a wash cloth with cold water and massage your infant’s gums, especially in the area where the new tooth or teeth are coming in. This helps to stimulate the gum tissue, making it easier for the new teeth to erupt. As soon as your infant has his or her first tooth, the fight against decay begins! Just because they are infants, does not mean they are immune to cavities. Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, there are sugars that will cause cavities over time. After feeding, even if the infant is sleeping, take a wet washcloth or rubber infant tooth and gum brush and rub it along the teeth to remove the sugars from the tooth surfaces.
Baby’s First Dental Visit
Now that your baby has teeth, when is the right time to go to the dentist? It is recommended that a first visit happen within six months of the eruption of baby’s first tooth and every 6 months from thereafter. This helps to establish a solid dental routine for your child as they grow and develop. Psychologically, this also helps to eliminate any mistrust or fear that they could develop for the dental office. They are able to become familiar with the dentist and what going to the dentist involves. This also allows a dentist to have a clinical examination of your child’s teeth and if there are any decay issues, they are able to be caught and handled in a timely manner.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that infants switch from drinking out of a bottle to drinking out of a “sippy” cup around 12-14 months of age. Prolonged bottle-feeding may increase the risk of crooked teeth and bite problems later on. It is also recommended that you never give your infant juice in a bottle or anything other than water if they are used to going to bed with it. This is mostly critical after the eruption of their first teeth. Milk has sugars in it that can rest on your infant’s teeth while they sleep and cause “baby bottle tooth decay” or early childhood tooth decay. So if this is something your infant is currently doing, start to dilute the milk until it is 100 percent water or completely switch over to water.
Thumb sucking or pacifier usage is something that is completely normal in infants and is usually a habit that the infant “drops” on their own between 18- 24 months. The earlier you can encourage your infant to stop using a pacifier or suck his or her thumb, the better. Prolonged usage can also contribute to crooked teeth and if these habits continue beyond 2 years of age, a professional consultation is recommended.
As parents, we all want to give our children the best start possible. Don’t let their dental care be the exception. For further resources or information, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has some fantastic parent brochures of a range of topics.
Chelsea Brooks is a dental hygienist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.