How you take care of your child’s teeth now will determine what kind of smile they have when they are an adult. When a child is born they already have their 20 baby teeth present under their gums. Some babies are even born with teeth exposed or their teeth come in very early. Every child is different. The average age for a baby to start getting their teeth is 6 months. By the age of 3 most children have all 20 of their baby teeth.
Babies can get cavities. The ADA (American Dental Association) recommends that you start cleaning your baby’s gums when they are just a few days old. Dampen a square gauze pad or a soft wash cloth and rub gently across your baby’s gums. When teeth start to appear use a child’s size toothbrush and water to brush your baby’s teeth. As soon as your child turns 2, start brushing with a pea sized amount of toothpaste and have your child spit it out when done. You’ll want to ask your dentist or pediatrician if you should use fluorinated or non fluorinated toothpaste. This will depend on if your child is able to spit, if your tap water is fluorinated and if you give your child fluoride supplements. Parents should continue brushing their child’s teeth twice a day until she can take over the brushing on her own, which is usually around age 6 or 7. As soon as she has two teeth that touch you will need to help her floss her teeth daily.
ADA recommends that you take your child to the dentist around their first birthday. After their initial visit you can ask your dentist how often you should bring her back. This visit is to allow your child to start getting familiar with going to the dentist. Your dentist will inspect her mouth and make sure everything is healthy and to check for cavities. The dentist will clean her teeth and make any suggestions to you regarding caring for her teeth and gums.
Cavities can be caused by bacteria transferred by saliva from the mother’s mouth. For this reason it is not recommended that you clean your baby’s pacifier by putting it into your mouth or that you eat off of your baby’s spoon during feeding time.
Baby teeth are important because they hold spaces for the permanent teeth. If a baby tooth is lost too early the permanent teeth can drift into the open space and then come in crooked. Your dentist will use a spacer to hold open the spot where the baby tooth was lost if it is lost too early.
The proper technique for brushing is to hold the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle to the gums and brush back and forth covering each tooth. Brush all surfaces of the teeth. Your child should brush her teeth for 2 minutes. Flossing should be done once a day. Make sure to brush her tongue to remove bacteria and to get rid of bad breath. Tooth brushes should be replaced as soon as the bristles start to fray or every 3 months. It’s also a good idea to replace your child’s tooth brush if she has been ill. Rinsing with a fluoride rinse at the end of brushing is also a way to prevent cavities, should your child’s dentist recommend doing so.
As soon as your child has molars the dentist may put a sealant on them. The sealant fills up the crevices on the surface of the teeth that are more likely to get a cavity. It does not hurt to get sealant put on your teeth and it is often covered by dental insurance. Your dentist will also give your child a fluoride treatment during their exam, but this treatment is optional.
Your child’s diet can affect the health of her teeth. Even watered down fruit juice is bad for your child’s teeth. Water should be offered instead of sugary beverages. Sticky foods like fruit snacks or raisins can also have negative effects on your child’s teeth. Once your child has brushed her teeth in the morning, when she drinks or eats afterwards have her rinse her mouth with water a few times. She should avoid eating after she’s brushed her teeth for the night.
To keep your child’s teeth and body healthy it’s important that they are eating a healthy diet. According to MyPlate, which is the new food pyramid, fruits and vegetables should make up half of your child’s diet. At least half of the grains that she consumes need to be whole grain. Proteins should be lean when possible, eggs, beans, chicken breast, lean beef and fish. Dairy is very important to build strong teeth and bones, but make sure you are choosing low-fat dairy options.
For babies, avoid putting anything other than milk, breast milk, or formula into a bottle. Never put a child to bed with a bottle. This can cause bottle rot or baby bottle tooth decay, which is very damaging to young teeth. This condition usually only affects the front teeth, but has been known to affect other teeth. Encourage your child to drink out of a regular cup by their first birthday. Extended use of sippy cups is also not recommended.