Dental Care and Your Baby
From birth up until their third birthday, many dental changes take place for growing babies. Therefore, it is critical for the very young to receive regular checkups from their pediatric dentists to keep them on the right track.
A Baby's First Dental Appointment
The very first visit to a dental pediatrician should happen when a baby's first tooth appears. This can happen as early as around 4-6 months, and parents should wait no longer than a child's first birthday for their initial checkup. There are many reasons to get a head start on a child's dental care, including checking for early dental caries (cavities), examining for healthy gums, and monitoring the growth of incoming teeth throughout transitions to solid foods.
What to Expect in the First Few Years
The first teeth to come in are the front and middle teeth (called the central incisors). Typically, the lower incisors will come in first, followed by the upper incisors. The remaining primary teeth (baby teeth) will appear over the next couple of years, with the molars in the back arriving last. By 3 years old, a baby generally has all 20 primary teeth.
Even though a child will eventually lose these primary teeth, they still require close dental attention. The health of primary teeth has a significant impact on the health of permanent teeth later on. Lifestyle factors such as thumb sucking, the use of sippy cups, and diet all affect dental development in children. Primary teeth also influence everyday behaviors like speech and the ability to eat certain foods, so maintaining a healthy smile helps a child throughout their early development.
Dental Care Tips for Early Childhood
Dental care for a baby can, in fact, begin before birth. Within the first few months of pregnancy, teeth begin to develop, and balanced nutrition with plenty of calcium during pregnancy can help this growth. There has also been some indication that chewing Xylitol gum during pregnancy may also positively impact dental development, along with diligent oral care such as brushing, flossing, and having regular dental checkups.
Home care for a baby's mouth should begin from birth, even before the first teeth come in. Wiping the gums with a cloth soaked in water can clean away plaque for infants. Once the first teeth begin to come in, they should be brushed twice each day. Flossing should begin daily as soon as necessary (whenever two adjacent teeth have grown in). When brushing, the child should receive assistance until he or she can brush their teeth for themselves. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends using a "smear" of toothpaste for children under the age of 2, and an amount about the size of a pea for children over 2 years old.
To best protect babies from developing cavities, bottles of milk should never be given just before bedtime or naps. Because the sugars from milk can collect on teeth and promote bacteria, even breast milk given right before bed can increase a baby's risk for cavities. And it is important to refrain from giving a child juice throughout the day in a sippy cup; bathing their teeth in sugar throughout the day can quickly lead to cavities and childhood tooth decay. Indeed, sugary drinks like juice should be limited to small amounts at meals and snacks to promote healthy teeth.
Effectively navigating a baby's dental development requires the specialized care of a dental pediatrician. With regular checkups and diligent home care, a baby can receive a fantastic foundation for their oral health moving into the rest of their lives.