Good oral health begins early.
Nothing shines brighter than baby’s smile, and there’s no better time to start protecting those pearly whites than during National Children’s Dental Health Month. Pediatric dentist Lyndsay Bates, DDS, MS, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is our tooth sleuth, and below she gives all the answers on how to best care for your cutie’s chompers.
P&N: How soon should parents start thinking about their newborn’s oral hygiene? Any tips on cleaning a newborn’s mouth?
Bates: Parents should begin thinking about their newborn’s oral hygiene around three to six months of age. This is a great time to establish their new baby’s bedtime routine which should incorporate some time for their little mouths. Gentle gum massage can be helpful for getting a baby used to their parents cleaning their mouths, and it can be soothing for teething as well. Fingertip brushes are great for gum massage and wiping off the tongue. The tongue is a great hiding spot for bacteria, so keep it clean.
P&N: How does dental cleaning change at home when babies gain their first teeth?
Bates: The fun really begins once your baby’s first tooth erupts, which is usually around 6 months of age. Again, the fingertip brush is great for brushing the front teeth, also known as the incisors. Once your baby’s molars erupt, it’s best to switch to a soft bristle infant toothbrush. Use no more than a “rice-sized” amount of toothpaste. Parents should brush their children’s teeth for them, twice per day, until the child is dexterous enough to tie his own shoes. At that time the parents can supervise oral hygiene.
P&N: What are the best techniques for brushing baby’s mouth? Which spots are easy to miss in those first-time cleanings?
Bates: Remember that the teeth have five sides that need to be cleaned so approach tooth brushing in a methodical way to ensure you’re thorough. Lay your child down with their feet away from you and their head close to you just like a dentist would sit. Start brushing in one area and move around to all the areas in the mouth. Be sure to get the chewing surface as well as the sides of the teeth. The gum line is often a haven for plaque, so make sure the toothbrush cleans the teeth and the gums. The other area that is often missed is the back or tongue side of the top front teeth.
Positioning your infant for brushing their teeth can feel awkward at first, but once you figure it out, it’s easy as pie. Remember, routine is key for kids. Repeating this process in the same way and at the same time each day helps you’re child understand and anticipate tooth brushing.
P&N: At what age should parents schedule their child’s first dental appointment?
Bates: Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommend children should be seen within six months of eruption of the first tooth or by 12 months of age, whichever comes first.
P&N: Any tips on relieving anxiety for children (and their parents) when they go to the dentist for the first time? What can infants and parents expect during that first visit to the dentist’s office?
Bates: Your child’s first dental visit should be exciting and memorable. There are many books you can read with your child about visiting the dentist. Talking with the child about meeting your new friends Dr. ____ and their helpers will make meeting the dentist something to look forward to for everyone. New places and people can be scary for babies, but know that you are doing what is best for your child. Each time you come, they will be more comfortable in the setting and more able to cooperate.
The first visit will include an infant oral exam to assess the baby’s growth and development, a demonstration of tooth brushing and oral hygiene techniques, a cleaning of the teeth and gums and an application of fluoride. They will also discuss the child’s diet, home hygiene routine, non-nutritive sucking habits, teething and injury prevention.
At this young age, children can be stranger shy and difficult to reason with, so don’t be surprised if your baby fusses a little bit during the exam and cleaning. This is very age appropriate and each visit does get easier and easier. Remind yourself that prevention is our goal. Cavities are completely avoidable if the correct steps are taken from the get go.
P&N: Any last advice for parents just stepping into newborn dental care?
Bates: Cavities are completely preventable, with good oral hygiene and diet your child can be cavity-free for a lifetime.
Avoid saliva sharing behaviors. The bacteria that cause cavities are spread from parents and siblings to children. Reducing exposure to the saliva of others will reduce the baby’s risk of cavities. Parents should not clean off a pacifier or toy with their mouths nor should they share spoons, utensils, or straws with their kids unless they’ve been washed between uses.
Many thanks again to Lydsay Bates for sharing her time and expertise. To learn more about pediatric dental care, visit the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.