Good oral care starts at the beginning of your infant’s life, long before your baby’s first teeth break through his or her gums. Babies have unique oral health needs that must be met to ensure the healthy development of primary teeth. So what can you do to give your baby the best dental head start?
Early gum care
Gum care should begin shortly after your baby comes home from the hospital. Even toothless, it will help your baby get used to idea of oral care. Introduce your baby to an oral hygiene routine by gently cleaning the gums with a soft, moistened washcloth once a day. This will help remove any film from feeding as well as bacteria.
It’s important to remove as much bacteria as possible, especially once the first teeth start emerging. Bacteria promote the development of plaque, which covers teeth and encourages the formation of dental caries, or cavities.
Once teeth have emerged, you can begin to brush your infant’s teeth. It’s best to use a soft toothbrush designed for babies and a very small amount (the size of a grain of rice) of pediatric toothpaste with fluoride. Brush with a gentle, circular motion and be supportive and encouraging to your baby during the process. At this age, when many babies don’t like having objects in their mouth, it’s important to make tooth brushing time non-traumatic.
Prevent tooth decay
Aside from brushing and wiping gums, you can help prevent decay by never putting your baby to bed with a bottle that contains any type of liquid except water. Although milk bottle caries typically affect children after they have developed primary teeth, the sugar in these types of liquids can affect gums and the development of teeth. To prevent tooth decay, the American Dental Association recommends parents give infants a bottle before naptime or bedtime, but not while the baby is asleep, while the baby is walking to sleep with a bottle, or while walking around with a bottle of juice or milk to drink at will.
Parents must always give babies a clean pacifier and never give them a pacifier that has been dipped in sugar or honey; this can promote the development of plaque and tooth decay. Never give a baby a pacifier that has been “rinsed” by putting it into your own mouth.
- Even before the first tooth develops, parents must take care of an infant’s gums and emerging teeth.
- Never put your baby to bed with a bottle that contains anything but water.
- Protect your baby from tooth decay by always offering a clean pacifier.