You might not think dental hygiene would be that important for babies, particularly if the baby in question hasn’t even cut his first tooth. But oral care for infants is just as necessary as it is for adults. Poor dental care early in life can cause major problems down the road. Luckily, it’s easy to keep your baby’s smile healthy.
One of the earliest problems that babies face is a buildup of bacteria in their mouths. Bacteria can linger in the mouth even without teeth, causing bad breath or, in rare cases, infections. The bacteria usually can’t harm your baby until the teeth emerge, but since it can be difficult to tell when the teeth are about to cut, it’s important to keep his mouth clean. Simply wipe your baby’s gums with gauze or a warm, damp washcloth during bath time to wash out the bacteria. As an added bonus, this can also massage sore gums while teething, and getting your baby used to oral cleanings can help him transition to tooth brushing later on.
Once your baby’s teeth start to emerge, you should clean them twice a day. There are plenty of products on the market to help make this easier, from dental wipes to finger toothbrushes. Look for a soft tip that can massage the gums as well as clean the teeth, such as NUK’s infant toothbrush. Use a small amount of baby toothpaste with fluoride—a dot the size of a grain of rice is plenty. Brush the insides and outsides of his teeth and the top of his tongue. With such a small amount of toothpaste, you won’t need to rinse afterward.
Another problem to watch for is called malocclusion, or bad bite. Malocclusion is a condition in which the teeth are out of alignment or the jaws don’t meet properly. One of the most common causes for the condition is losing baby teeth too soon due to improper care. Baby teeth act as placeholders for adult teeth: If the baby teeth get cavities and fall out early, the adult teeth can start to crowd the newly vacant space, throwing the other teeth out of alignment. Some studies have implied that prolonged sucking on a finger or pacifier could increase the risk of malocclusion, so discourage your baby from sucking constantly. Try to avoid prolonged use of sippy cups, and encourage your child to use real cups by their first birthday.
Help prevent cavities by monitoring what your baby eats. Foods and drinks with lots of added sugar, like fruit juice or soda, are to be avoided. And make sure to never put your baby to bed with a bottle, even if it’s filled with formula or breast milk: the liquid frequently pools around the teeth, causing cavities. Stick with healthy choices, like lean proteins and whole grains. Additionally, fruits and vegetables should be roughly half of your baby’s diet. Remember, children should be taken to the dentist when they get their first tooth or when they turn one. Your dentist will check your baby’s mouth and make sure his smile is right on track!