From Newborn to Baby: Oral Health Guidance
To say new parents are busy is an understatement. Between diaper changings, frequent feedings and not-so-frequent naps, new parents often don't realize that it's never too early to help little ones get started down the path toward a lifetime of good oral health.
Even though most babies are born without teeth, they still need oral health care. From day one, wipe your baby's gums with a clean cloth, especially after feedings and before bed, to keep the mouth free of bacteria. This keeps gums healthy and clean, of course, and it also establishes a good routine from the start.
Once your child gets his or her first tooth, typically sometime around 6 months, it's time to start brushing. All you need is a baby toothbrush and some water; fluoride toothpaste is not recommended. Up to about age 6, children have a tendency to swallow most of the toothpaste put on the brush. Swallowing too much fluoride while adult teeth are developing under the gums can lead to white spots or lines on the teeth called dental fluorosis. A child who accidentally consumes too much fluoride toothpaste may also complain of a tummy ache.
When your child does start brushing with “grown-up” toothpaste around the age of 2 or 3, a pea-size amount is all that's needed. When your child has two teeth that touch, it's time to start flossing to ensure that food particles don't get trapped between them. Floss picks can come in handy as well. They're available in fun colors and flavors, and may be easier to maneuver between small teeth than long strands of string.
It's tempting to soothe your little one to sleep with a bottle or sippy cup of milk, formula or juice, especially once he or she is able to handle it with no assistance. Unfortunately, the sugars in all of those drinks — yes, even milk — can cause tooth decay when left on enamel all night. If your baby finds it soothing to suck on a bottle or sippy cup while drifting off, it's fine to provide water.
Children should have their first dentist appointment by the time they're blowing out the candle on their first birthday cake — or six months after the first tooth erupts, if you have an early bloomer. At the first appointment, the dentist will check to make sure teeth are developing the way they should be and answer any questions that you may have. This is a great way to get your youngster comfortable with going to the dentist.