Your baby's teeth may not be first on your mind in his first year, since for the majority of that time his smile consists of gums-only, but it's never too early to be thinking about dental health. Here to share his knowledge on proper attention to your babe's oral care is Dr. Doyle Williams, Chief Dental Officer of DentaQuest and an associate professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine.
It is easy to imagine the guilt that parents and caregivers feel when they pass a flu or cold virus to their infants and young children. What most people don’t realize is that just as a flu bug can be passed from one person to another, so can cavity-causing bacteria. That’s right—cavity-causing bacteria are contagious—and infants and children are especially vulnerable to them.
So, what should you do? Beyond monitoring your diet and practicing good oral hygiene, taking preventive measures to reduce the risk of transmitting cavity-causing bacteria to the infants and children in your care will better position them to avoid tooth decay and other health problems.
In the spirit of National Children's Dental Health Month, celebrated in February, I’d like to share with you a few tips:
• Start by visiting your dentist.
If you aren’t already receiving regular 6-month dental check-ups, it’s time to start doing so. You’re not only bettering your own oral health, but that of your kids. Expectant mothers are especially vulnerable to gum disease because of elevated hormone levels, so it’s best to make a trip to the dentist during pregnancy.
• Rinse, rinse and rinse again.
Remember that whatever bacteria are in your mouth can be passed on to your baby through saliva. This can be done through something as harmless as tasting your infant’s food. Be sure to first rinse off anything that’s been in your mouth before giving it to your child.
• Washcloths work.
From when your child is born to the age of six months, use a washcloth with a little water to clean your baby's gums and teeth twice a day. Baby teeth hold space for adult teeth and are needed for children to chew their food, so it’s important to help your baby form healthy teeth. Lower front teeth will show at about 8 months; upper front teeth show at about 10 months. First molars and eye teeth appear between 16 and 20 months.
• 1-year visit.
Bring your child to the dentist for his or her first check-up six months after the first tooth erupts, or about one year old.. Healthy baby teeth are all one color. If you see spots or stains on any teeth, consult your dentist. Your dentist can determine the risk of your child developing dental disease based on their baby teeth. Make sure to also talk to your dentist about teething and fluoride drops. Fluoride makes teeth strong, helping to prevent cavities.
• Just say “no.”
Avoid giving bedtime sippy cups or bottles to your child. Milk and juice at bedtime allow sugars to linger in a child’s mouth for long periods of time and lead to a condition known as Early Childhood Caries, or ECC. ECC is an aggressive, infectious dental disease that can destroy the teeth of very young children.
• Water it down.
Limit sugary juice intake by watering down juices so they are about three-quarters water. Also, rinse the infant or child’s mouth with water after sugary snacks and drinks to help reduce the risk of cavities.
Taking proper care of your teeth not only improves your own oral health, but also sets the stage for your child to have a healthy start in life.