Taking Care of Your Baby's Teeth (and Future Teeth!)
Are you prepared for the arrival of your baby's first tooth? Follow these guidelines and your baby will be on her way to a lifetime of healthy smiles!
Caring for Gums
Even before your baby's first tooth appears (or, in dental jargon, "erupts"), her gums can benefit from your careful attention. After breast- or bottle-feeding, wrap one finger with a clean, damp washcloth or piece of gauze and gently rub it across your baby's gum tissue. This practice both clears your little one's mouth of any fragments of food and begins the process of building a good habit of daily oral care.
Baby's First Tooth
When that first tooth makes an entrance, it's time to upgrade to a baby toothbrush. There are usually two options: a long-handled toothbrush that you and your baby can hold at the same time, and a finger-puppet-like brush that fits over the tip of your pointer finger. In each case the bristles are soft and few. At this stage, toothpaste isn't necessary; just dip the brush in water before brushing. If your little one doesn't react well to the introduction of a toothbrush, don't give up; switch back to a damp washcloth for a few weeks, then try the toothbrush again. During the teething process your child will want to chew on just about anything – a baby toothbrush with a teether can become a favorite toy during this period.
Brushing with Toothpaste
When a few more teeth appear, you can start using toothpaste with your child's brush. However, be sure to choose toothpaste that is specifically made for children. At this stage, use only a tiny amount of toothpaste, about the size of a pea. From the beginning, have your little one practice spitting the toothpaste out after brushing in order to prevent the swallowing of the fluoride in the toothpaste.
Don't give your baby any sort of sweetened liquids such as flavored drinks or soda. Even the sugars present in fruit juice, formula, and milk (this goes for breast milk as well) can cause decay, so regular tooth and gum cleaning is vital. Also, make sure your baby never goes to bed with a bottle – sugary liquids in prolonged contact with the teeth are a guarantee for early-childhood decay, also called baby-bottle caries.
First Visit to the Dentist
We recommend that you bring your child in for her first visit between the ages of 2 1/2 to 3 years. Since decay can occur in even the smallest of teeth, the earlier your child visits us, the more likely she is to avoid problems. We'll look for any signs of early problems with your child's oral heath, and check in with you about the best way to care for her teeth. Remember that preparing for each dental visit with a positive attitude goes a long way toward making your child comfortable with regular checkups.
Setting a Good Example
As part of the natural learning process, little ones are expert mimics, and you can take advantage of this talent. Brush and floss daily while your child is watching, and she will intuit at an early age the importance of good habits. As soon as she shows interest, give her a toothbrush of her own and encourage her to "brush" with you. (You'll find toothbrushes with chunky, short handles that are easy to grip.) Most children don't have the dexterity necessary to thoroughly clean their own teeth until they're about 4 or 5, so you'll have to do that part of the job for them. Try different tactics to make brushing fun: flavored toothpaste, a toothbrush with a favorite character on it, singing songs about brushing. The primary goal is to instill healthy oral habits at an early age to set your child up for a lifetime of healthy, cavity-free teeth!