How To Protect Your Baby’s Oral Health
A thorough check-up of your baby’s overall physical health is a central part of pediatric and family medicine.
Make sure that the health of your child’s teeth are part of the examination.
A dentist should check your baby’s teeth and mouth (oral health) within six months of the first tooth breaking through the gums – or by one year of age at the latest.
At this first visit, the dentist will examine your baby’s mouth. He (or she) will also explain how you should take care of your baby’s teeth and mouth, and talk to you about your baby’s diet.
Your child’s dentist can find any early signs of tooth (or dental) decay and other problems at this time and treat them.
Tooth decay is an infectious disease that can happen when bacteria in the mouth interacts with the sugars present in milk and fruit juices. This process produces acids that can be destructive to teeth.
When a baby is awake, the continuous flow of saliva in his mouth dilutes the sugars and washes them off the surfaces of the teeth.
Because there is much less saliva in the baby’s mouth when he sleeps, the sugars can concentrate on the surfaces of the teeth. This environment is friendly to bacteria and acid production.
You can prevent tooth decay with proper hygiene: making sure you clean your baby’s teeth after a feeding, rather than letting your baby fall asleep right after.
- The bacteria that cause dental decay are already present in a baby’s mouth before the first tooth breaks through the gums. This is why it’s important to clean your baby’s mouth after a feeding, even if he doesn’t have any visible teeth.
- Dental decay can happen to any baby. It doesn’t matter how old the baby is, what ethnic group the baby’s family is from, what job a baby’s parents have or how much money they make.
- Under certain conditions, baby teeth can start to decay as soon as they break through the gums, for example: putting a baby to bed with a bottle of milk, juice, or any other drinks containing sugar.
Oral Hygiene For Your Baby
One of the best ways to clean your baby’s gums is to wipe them with a damp gauze sponge immediately after a feeding.
This removes food material from the gums, and reduces the amount of harmful bacteria in the mouth.
You should keep following this routine when your baby’s teeth first start to erupt.
Since your baby will get used to this simple cleaning routine, it will be easier to introduce a toothbrush later on.
- When at least four teeth in a row have broken through your baby’s gums in the lower or upper jaw, you can start using a toothbrush for his oral hygiene. Use a toothbrush with a thicker handle; they are easier for small hands to hold. Your child will feel less frustration as he grows and wants to learn to brush his own teeth.
You should brush your child’s teeth until he has enough strength and co-ordination to brush them himself. Even then, supervise him when he brushes his teeth.
We already know that toothpaste and tap water that contain fluoride reduce the incidence of dental decay. Fluoride is used widely in toothpaste and in municipal drinking water.
Too much fluoride, however, can cause unsightly discolouration on the enamel of your child’s teeth. This is called fluorosis.
Mild dental fluorosis looks like white flecks on the surface of the tooth. In more severe cases, brown mottling appears on the teeth.
There are several sources of fluoride: municipal water supplies, toothpaste, vitamin supplements, and fruit drinks and juices (especially if they have been bottled with fluoridated water).
- The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) recommends that no fluoride supplements be given to children under six years. Supplements should only be given if a child’s dentist feels there is a high risk of dental decay.
Fluoride-free toothpaste is recommended for children under six years. This is because most children can’t spit properly until then. They may swallow most of the toothpaste, which increases the risk of fluorosis.
If fluoride toothpaste is used to brush your child’s teeth, make sure you use only a pea-sized amount at each brushing, and that you supervise your child if he is old enough to brush his teeth himself. Brushing should happen twice per day. PC
Dr. Keith Titley is Professor, Department of Pediatric Dentistry, University of Toronto.
Published in March 2007