What are some ways I can keep my baby’s mouth and teeth healthy?
Baby teeth and caring for them is very important. When baby teeth are infected with strep mutans infection, this infection can be transmitted to permanent teeth and cause damage. It is essential to take care of primary baby teeth, even though they fall out.
There are 20 primary teeth. The lower central incisor teeth develop first at 6 to 10 months of age. This is followed by the upper central incisor teeth at 8 to 12 months of age. Following that, the upper lateral incisor teeth develop at 9 to 13 months of age. The lateral lower incisors develop between 10 to 16 months of age. At 13 to 19 months the first upper molar develops. The upper canine (cuspid) develops at 16 to 22 months of age. The lower first molar develops at 14 to 18 months of age. The lower canine develops at 17 to 23 months of age.
Baby teeth help with development of speech and they hold space for permanent teeth. Primary baby teeth help in the development of the jaw and face. Obviously, primary teeth are important for eating and self esteem, even in young children who are aware of their appearance at an early age, especially if they look different or feel pain.
Baby teeth are also at risk for trauma and damage. Damage and injury to baby teeth usually happens between 1 and 2 years of age when toddlers are developing their gross (large) motor skills, when they like to run and jump while playing. If your child damages or knocks out a baby tooth, do not place it back in the socket to avoid damaging the permanent tooth bud underneath the baby tooth. If a tooth is bent or pushed into the gums, the child is at risk for injury to permanent tooth. For any trauma, take your child or baby to a periodontist.
Diet and nutrition are an essential part of good oral health.
As discussed in my previous blog, bacteria cause decay by breaking down sugars in baby’s diet. Formula, milk, juices, sodas, etc., contain sugar and place your baby at risk for decay if baby’s mouth is not cleaned after enjoying these fluids. Another source of sugar is cooked carbohydrates such as crackers, cereal, chips and junk food. To prevent bacteria build up on teeth, give your child healthy snacks. Brush child’s teeth after eating foods like cookies, chips, etc.
One of the most significant contributors to early childhood tooth decay is juice, which I consider sugar water. The sugar from juice sits on baby’s teeth all day, especially if the child is drinking juice continuously, throughout the day. It’s much healthier and better to give your child fruit. One of the most serious dental diseases in babies is baby bottle caries and tooth decay. This occurs when teeth are exposed to sugars from bottles with formula, milk or juice over long periods of time, such as overnight or when they carry anything other than water throughout the day. The upper front teeth are usually most affected. The decay occurs on the back of the tooth, where it’s often not seen. This infection can potentially spread throughout the mouth and face.
- Sippy cups should only be used for water, not milk or juice.
- Do not put your baby to sleep with a bottle of juice or formula or milk.
- If you have to give a bottle when going to sleep give a water bottle.
Ad lib breastfeeding (or “feeding on demand”) should be avoided after the eruption of the first tooth. Again, the sugar from milk will sit on the baby’s teeth all night long placing baby at risk for dental decay. Children should be weaned from the bottle at 12 to 14 months of age. Bottles promote tooth decay and caries after this age.
- Never dip a pacifier in honey or sugar water.
Another risk factor for baby dental decay is pacifiers and thumb sucking. Thumb sucking usually can last until 2 years, when most stop. Thumb sucking should be discouraged after 4 years and even more so after a child has permanent teeth, which come in at around 6 years of age. Prolonged thumb sucking or pacifier use can cause misaligned and misformed teeth and alter bite. Cleaning a pacifier with parents’ or caregivers’ saliva can transmit strep mutants infection. This is also true of sharing spoons.
Part of good oral health is water and making sure babies and children drink lots of water. Fluoride is important for prevention of early childhood dental decay. Children need to drink water with fluoride. Many parents give their baby bottled water, which usually has no fluoride, unless the bottle specifically states that it is present. Pediadontists also place fluoridated varnish over baby teeth when babies and children come for visits. If your tap water does not have fluoride, your baby needs to take vitamins with fluoride. Children should begin using toothpaste with fluoride at around 2 years of age to prevent future caries and dental decay.
Finally, its important to keep in mind that what you do in terms of caring for your baby’s oral health from the beginning will determine her future oral health. We want our children to have beautiful smiles. Making sure you clean and care for your baby’s mouth and teeth from the beginning will ensure these smiles.
Pediatric Oral Care schedule for babies:
- Bottles are for nutrition. They should only be used to feed babies who are not breast-feeding.
- Babies’ teeth should be brushed twice a day as soon as they erupt.
- Infant needs to transition from bottle to cup.
- Sippy cup use should be limited.
- Infants should be weaned from bottle.
- Infants should see the dentist between 6 months to 1 year of age following eruption of first tooth.
- Encourage healthy eating habits and snacking.
- Sippy cups at mealtimes only.
- Water between meals.
- Brush and check baby’s teeth.
Encourage healthy behaviors and snacking.
- Toddler may start using fluoridated toothpaste.
- Parents should brush and check baby’s teeth.
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Expert: Dr. Gina Lamb – Amato MD Gina is a general pediatrician and developmental pediatrician in Manhattan, NY. She has a masters in child therapy and works with a child psychologist performing office and home consultation for newborns and parents, office and home developmental assessments, school consultations and parent child playgroups where play and art along with baby massage and other techniques are used to help parents bond and support their child’s development. She is the mother of a beautiful daughter who is the joy of her life.
The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.
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