Photography by Michael Alberstat Credits: Photography by Michael Alberstat
During the early months of development, there's not much to see in your baby's mouth except for a gummy grin. However, oral care is important even before the first teeth appear. Here's how you can ensure your baby's mouth and teeth stay healthy.
1. Clean your baby's mouth after every feeding.
Dr. Paul Andrews, assistant professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Toronto, says it is best to start an oral hygiene regimen on Day 1. He suggests wrapping a moistened baby washcloth around your index finger and gently wiping baby's gums and tongue. Don't use an adult washcloth (which is too rough) or baby wipes (which contain chemicals), says Dr. Andrews. Continue to use a cloth until there are four teeth side by side. Baby toothbrushes are generally designed to be appropriately sized for four teeth.
2. Make a dentist appointment when the first tooth appears.
The Canadian Dental Association recommends children visit a dentist within six months of tooth eruption or by their first birthday. First teeth generally appear around six months, although some children may cut a tooth as early as three months or as late as 12 months.
3. Care for your infant's baby teeth.
Your child's primary teeth will eventually fall out, but while they're around, they play a vital role. Baby teeth help children eat and enunciate, and act as placeholders for permanent teeth, says Dr. Andrews. Losing a baby tooth prematurely to trauma or infection creates a gap that can affect adult teeth later in life. "If a cavity develops in a baby tooth, infection can follow and can affect the permanent teeth waiting underneath," explains Dr. Anne Rowan-Legg, an Ottawa-based pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, the general rule is no fluoride toothpaste before the age of three, unless a child is at risk of tooth decay. A dentist will assess your child to determine risk.
4. Reduce the risk of tooth decay.
The germs (bacteria) in the mouth mix with the natural sugars found in milk and fruit juice to make a mild acid which can attack tooth enamel. Putting a child to bed with a bottle of either can increase this risk, says Dr. Andrews. Never sweeten a pacifier, which can also contribute to early childhood cavities.
5. Mind your own oral health.
Parents and caregivers can pass along bacteria in their saliva (by sharing utensils and 'cleaning' soothers) that can cause problems in their child's mouth. "The oral bacteria in adults with poor dental health are aggressive," says Dr. Andrews. The transfer of bacteria can put infants at much higher risk of dental decay because, once bacteria are in a child's mouth, they're there for life, says Dr. Andrews.
What about teething?
Teething may cause red gums, fussiness and an increased need to chew, but it doesn't make babies sick. "Some parents believe symptoms such as fever, rashes, diarrhea and feeding difficulties are associated with teething—they're often not," says Dr. Rowan-Legg. If your baby has any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
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