Your baby’s first set of teeth are important for the following reasons:
- Chewing of food to help develop bones and muscles.
- Giving your baby a nice appearance and smile.
- Helping your baby learn to talk.
- Saving space for the permanent teeth to grow in straight.
- You should keep your baby’s teeth clean as soon as they erupt.
- Fluoride is one of the most important factors in preventing tooth decay. Because the amount of fluoride in water varies with each community and with different sources of drinking water, you should consult your pediatric dentist for advice regarding your child’s need for fluoride supplementation.
- Many of a baby’s dietary habits, likes and dislikes are formed during the first two years of life, a time when the parents have the greatest influence over the diet.
Although the first tooth appears around six months of age, the baby’s first set of primary teeth (“Baby teeth”) are nearly completely formed at birth. Birth also marks the beginning of the formation of a baby’s permanent teeth. This process will continue for the next 13 years or so. During tooth formation, proper health and an optimal fluoride program offer the best chance for healthy teeth. Your pediatric dentist can assist you in promoting optimal dental development.
The eruption of the first few teeth is sometimes associated with symptoms and is referred to as “Teething.” Symptoms of sore gums, restlessness, irritability and disruption of eating and sleeping habits may be present, which may upset the digestive system resulting in loose stools. However, serious health problems do not arise from teething. A sick child should be evaluated by a physician and not be passed off as “Just teething.” If your infant experiences difficulties, contact your pediatric dentist for advice and recommendations for proper management.
Your baby’s diet
Once teeth have erupted, the bacteria present can produce acid from the sugars that are present in the diet. Frequent sugar intake and sugary foods that remain in the mouth for prolonged periods of time are the greatest causes of tooth decay.
Both formula and milk contain sugar which can be harmful once teeth start erupting. It is important to avoid letting your baby develop the habit of sleeping with a bottle at night or at naptime. The bottle should be used for feeding purposes only and should not be used as a pacifier.
While you are nursing it is important to maintain a well balanced diet. The severe form of tooth decay called “Nursing caries” which results from the improper use of the bottle can occur with improper breast feeding practices as well. Once teeth have erupted, it is important to follow a reasonable feeding schedule and to avoid prolonged feedings. Avoid allowing the infant to nurse all night, which can occur when sleeping with the infant.
Solid foods and snacks
Between three and six months of age, you will gradually be introducing your baby to solid foods. Dietary habits are established during the first few years. Choose foods carefully, avoiding those that contain large amounts of added sugar. Vegetables and fruits contain all the natural sugar your baby needs. The ingredients listed on commercial baby food labels appear in order of usage. Therefore, it is easy to select store bought foods that do not include added sugar as a major ingredient. It is not necessary or desirable to add sugar to baby foods. If you prepare your own baby foods do not add sugar or salt.
Snacks for toddlers and older children should be low in sugar and should not be sticky foods that remain in the mouth for long periods of time such as chewy candies and raisins. Foods such as vegetables, fruits, cheese and unsweetened fruit juices are readily accepted by children who have not previously formed the habit of eating snacks.
Sucking is a natural and normal desire and need for the infant. Considerable satisfaction is derived from sucking during the first year of life, and should not be discouraged if the infant has chosen to do so. If the habit persists past four or five years of age you should consult your pediatric dentist for advice regarding it’s effect on oral development, if any, and recommendations for management.
A pacifier is not necessary for every child. Controversy exists concerning whether a thumb or pacifier is best. The decision is up to the parents, or in many cases, the infant. If you feel your baby needs a pacifier, ask your pediatric dentist or physician for the correct style. Avoid putting sweets, honey, etc. on the pacifier to encourage its use.
Cleaning of teeth
Bacteria begins to accumulate in the mouth and may combine with sugar to form acid as soon as the teeth erupt. Along with limiting foods containing sugar, the cleaning of an infant’s teeth should begin as soon as the first tooth erupts. The teeth can be wiped with a piece of gauze or a clean washcloth initially. When your child has adjusted to the routine of daily tooth cleaning, you can begin using a small toothbrush. At this early age, toothpaste is not necessary.
As more teeth erupt, flossing may or may not be required, depending upon the presence or absence of spaces between the teeth. Your pediatric dentist can demonstrate the proper technique for tooth cleaning for an infant, advise you regarding the need for flossing and assist you in mastering the technique if needs be.
Falls, bumps and bruises are a normal part of the growing up process of infants and young children. Injuries to the mouth and teeth are quite common between the ages of 12 to 18 months, when the infant is learning to walk. Any injury which causes bleeding that doesn’t stop readily or that results in tooth fractures or teeth being intruded should be evaluated by a pediatric dentist. Frequently, all that will be required following an injury is close observation. However, this can only be determined by having the injury examined.
Your child’s dental health
With current knowledge and technology, it is possible to prevent tooth decay in children. However, a proper preventive program must begin in infancy and the efforts need to be consistent and continuous to be effective. You and your child should visit a pediatric dentist by the time your child reaches one year of age to receive information on how to begin a proper preventative program.