How to Care for Your Baby’s Teeth (or Lack Thereof)
The importance of oral health from day one.
Just because your baby is still gumming his way through life, the absence of teeth doesn’t mean his oral health should be neglected. “Even milk breaks down into simple sugars that feed the bacteria in our mouth,” says Dr. Doyle Williams, the chief dental officer of DentaQuest, a dental benefits company with offices in Calverton, Md. “These bacteria will colonize on our cheeks and gums and can attack the teeth once they erupt into the mouth.”
To get your little one started on the best path to good dental health, Williams recommends wiping the inside of your baby’s cheeks and gums with a soft washcloth until the first tooth appears. Once all that drooling leads to tiny chompers poking through, “You can continue to wipe the areas without teeth and start to brush the existing teeth,” says Williams. “As the child is able to cooperate, you can brush the teeth using a pea-sized dot of toothpaste.” Just as for adults, it’s important to remove food from all surfaces of the teeth. Bacteria are inevitable, but washing those sensitive gums and brushing those baby teeth will help prevent harmful bacteria from settling in and causing decay.
Think of managing your baby’s oral health as just another step in helping them become healthy and responsible adults. “Untreated tooth decay can have serious negative effects on a child’s physical and educational development,” Williams explains. Mouth pain can make it difficult for a child to eat a healthy diet and learn to speak properly. Also, untreated tooth decay in baby teeth can damage a child’s permanent teeth.
In addition to following these oral health tips for your baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants receive oral health risk assessments by the age of six months. “Starting early helps the dentist determine the child’s risk of developing dental disease,” says Williams. And don’t neglect your own dental health. Taking care of your teeth sets a good example for your children.