When should teeth brushing start? When should the first dental visit be? How are we ever going to make it through teething? You have a million different questions to answer (you're expecting after all). Here are the answers to a few of the dental ones.
When to Begin Gum Cleaning
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends beginning to wipe your child’s gums with a clean, moistened washcloth or gauze several days after birth. This has the two-fold benefit of helping to prevent a buildup of plaque in the mouth that may harm erupting teeth, and it gets your baby used to having his or her mouth cleaned.
Beginning to Brush
Primary teeth, or “baby teeth” will begin to get erupt between 6 and 12 months of age, and your child will continue to have new baby teeth come in until about 2 ½ years old, typically. It’s important to care for these teeth as soon as they come in, brushing twice a day with no more than a smear the size of a grain of rice of fluoride toothpaste (click here for a list of ADA Accepted toothbrushes and toothpastes for kids). Never put baby to bed with a bottle, and avoid using any sugary beverages, such as juice or soda, in bottles.
Ahh, the joys of tooth eruption… As teeth begin to erupt your baby may experience symptoms of discomfort, including fussiness, increased drooling, difficulty sleeping, and loss of appetite (parents may experience some of those symptoms right along with your babies!)
Here are some easy strategies to help relieve some of your baby’s discomfort:
· Rub gums gently with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth, a cool spoon, or a clean finger.
· Provide your baby with a clean teething ring to chew on
· Fever, rash, or diarrhea can be signs of disease, and we encourage you to contact your pediatrician if your baby experiences any of these while teething.
Do not use numbing gels or teething tablets for your baby, per FDA recommendations. Most numbing gels, even ones labeled as “baby formulations”, contain benzocaine, a drug that has been linked to a rare but serious and sometimes fatal condition known as methemoglobinemia. Only use topical numbing agents under the direction and supervision of a licensed health professional. The FDA also warns against the use of homeopathic teething tablets, as they can contain unpredictable levels of belladonna, a substance that can cause “seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating or agitation”.
Baby's First Dental Visit
It is recommended by the ADA that children see the dentist as soon as they get their first tooth or by their first birthday (whichever comes first). This may seem like overkill, but it’s not, and here’s why: As soon as teeth are present in the mouth they can get cavities. It’s important to note that tooth decay is the most prevalent chronic illness in children in this country. By age 5 about 60% of children will have at least one cavity. The saddest part about these statistics is that tooth decay is preventable!
Dentists are trained to identify cavities early on, but more importantly we can employ strategies to prevent them! At your infant’s dental visit, in addition to a teeth cleaning and the application we also assess oral health risks, look for bigger dental or jaw problems, discuss the importance of establishing good oral hygiene routines and dietary habits during your child's first visits. When it comes to the exam, itself, it’s normal for babies to cry or wriggle around, especially the first few times they come in – hang in there, mom and dad!
Returning every six months for check ups will ensure that your child’s teeth are being monitored for any disease, measures are being taken to prevent tooth decay and gum disease, and that prompt care will be given before disease (tooth decay, for instance) can cause your child pain or damage the permanent teeth.
For Further Reading
St. John Pediatric Dentistry: Dr. Laura's Baby Teething Guide
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry: State of Little Teeth (PDF)
American Dental Association, Mouth Healthy: Teething
American Dental Association, Mouth Healthy: Baby Teeth
American Academy of Pedicatric Dentistry: Parent FAQs