Healthy teeth are essential to your baby’s overall health. They help your baby eat and form sounds and words. Also, they affect the way your baby’s jaw grows. Good oral care is important as your baby develops. It begins with education and prevention. So, poor oral care can lead to infection and disease.
Around three months of age, babies will begin exploring the world with their mouth. They will have increased saliva and start to put their hands in their mouth. Many parents question whether or not this means that their baby is teething, but a first tooth usually appears around six months old. Typically, the first teeth to come are the lower front teeth (the lower central incisors). Most children will usually have all of their baby teeth by age three.
The process of your baby getting teeth is called “teething”. When your baby starts teething, you may notice that they drool more or want to chew on things. For some babies, teething may be painless. For others, their gums may become tender. Other symptoms of teething are loss of appetite, sleeping problems and/or mild temperature increase.
To manage discomfort associated with teething you may do the following:
• Give your baby a cold teething ring or a cold washcloth to chew on.
• Massage your baby’s gums with a clean or gloved finger.
• Ask your medical doctor if your baby can have baby acetaminophen. Do not give your baby aspirin. Aspirin can cause Reye’s syndrome, a serious illness that can lead to death in children under 18 years old.
Important points to remember
• Always hold your baby when feeding with a bottle. Do not leave a bottle in the crib or allow your baby to fall asleep with a bottle. The sugar in the milk or drink in the bottle can collect in your baby’s mouth and cause tooth decay.
• Premature loss of baby teeth is a common reason for displaced and crooked permanent teeth. Baby teeth should be shed naturally over time.
• Be careful with the use of pacifiers. Try to stop using pacifiers around age two. The same age applies for babies who suck their thumbs. Extended use of a pacifier or thumb sucking can cause problems with teeth alignment. Talk to your pediatric dentist about which type of pacifier should be used. Always use a clean pacifier.
• Your baby’s first visit to the dentist should be around their first birthday. This is important if they are at high risk for cavities or other teeth problems.
• Clean your baby’s teeth and gums with a wet washcloth. This should be done at least once a day or after meals. Once your baby starts to get teeth, clean their teeth and mouth at least twice a day. When your child is one to two years old, change to a soft baby toothbrush with plain water or a small dab of toothpaste without fluoride. Brush your baby’s teeth at least twice a day.
A note about fluoride: Fluoride is a mineral that helps prevent tooth decay by hardening the enamel of teeth. Depending on where you live, fluoride is often added to tap water. In The Bahamas, fluoride is not found in tap water or bottled water.
Once your child turns three years old, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Dental Association (ADA), and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommend that a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste be used when brushing. When your child is able, teach him or her to spit out the excess toothpaste. It is best to put the toothpaste on the toothbrush until your child is about age six. Parents should monitor and assist their child while brushing until he or she is around seven or eight years old. When your child can write his or her name well, then he or she should have the ability to brush well.
In closing, your child should see a pediatric dentist and establish a “dental home” by age one. Your dentist will make sure all teeth are developing normally and there are no dental problems or abnormalities. Also, the dentist will educate you and give you further advice on proper hygiene and prevention. If you don’t have a pediatric dentist in your community, find a caring general dentist who is comfortable seeing young children. Proper care of your baby’s first teeth lays a good foundation for a healthy future.
• Dr. Kendal V. O. Major is founder and CEO of Center for Specialized Dentistry, a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified Fastbraces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue. He can be reached at telephone (242) 325-5165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.