When your new little bundle of joy arrives, they enter this world without any visible teeth. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t oral health concerns you should be thinking about. Ensuring your baby has a healthy mouth means taking action well before their first teeth begin to erupt.
Below are some guidelines for how to encourage good oral health habits during the various stages of childhood.
Pre-Teeth (0-6 Months)
Many people don’t think of oral care until teeth start appearing – but as many adults will attest, your gums are an incredibly component of good oral health. This doesn’t mean you need to break out a toothbrush and toothpaste and start scrubbing up your infant’s gums.
It simply means getting into the habit of taking a soft cloth or piece of gauze, and gently rubbing it on baby’s gums to help keep bacteria at bay. There are also soft, silicon devices available that you can slip onto your finger for easy cleaning. As a bonus, this action can also make your child comfortable and familiar with having something ‘clean’ their mouth – making the transition to a toothbrush that much smoother.
First Teeth (6-18 Months)
Baby’s first tooth may crop up at any stage – when it does, it’s time to break out a baby-friendly toothbrush and child-formula toothpaste. Place a tiny dot of toothpaste on the brush and give each tooth a gentle, 360 degree cleaning. If you can, try and tackle their tongue as well, to help kill off bad breath bacteria.
Given the small amount of toothpaste, you likely won’t need to rinse your baby’s mouth, but you should rinse the toothbrush. Both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend an initial visit to your dentist once that first tooth has popped through or around baby’s first birthday – whichever comes first. Look for a pediatric dentist that has undertaken the additional training associated with treating baby and children’s mouths.
Again, the earlier you establish a relationship with the dentist and good oral health practices, the more likely you’ll be to stick with them down the road. During your visit, you can discuss tooth care practices, fluoride treatments and levels, teething tactics, and potential hazards relating to decay or thumb sucking.
Baby Teeth In (~3 Years)
By the time your baby is a toddler, they should have a full set of 20 primary (or baby) teeth in place. By this point, you should still be brushing their teeth at least twice a day, using no larger than a pea-sized amount.
Your toddler may want to have a go at brushing their teeth themselves – this is okay, as long as you ensure they spit out their toothpaste while brushing, particularly if it has fluoride in it. In addition, once all of a child’s baby teeth are in, it’s time to start flossing – a task best handled by mom or dad.
Even though primary teeth will start falling out by the time your child is school aged, it’s still important to give them plenty of attention. Roughly 40% of children under five have some form of tooth decay – which can have far-reaching impacts, including poor nutritional habits, damaged permanent teeth, and speech impediments. It’s essential to book your child in for semi-annual dentist appointments, and to keep an eye on their mouths to get ahead of any potential oral health concerns.