From the moment you first find out you’re pregnant, you want to give your child the best possible start. You might read parenting books or give up wine for the duration of your pregnancy. Maybe you babyproof the house and research what type of music will give your child the best chance to get into an Ivy League school.
As you carefully consider ways to ensure a bright, happy future for your new baby, don’t forget to think about your child’s dental health.
Some parents might think they don’t have to worry about such things until much later. After all, babies aren’t born with teeth. However, dental health starts long before babies start teething.
Follow these 7 guidelines to encourage a healthy, happy mouth for your child.
- Clean the Gums
Before your baby’s first tooth even emerges, develop the habit of cleaning gums at bath time. Simply wrap gauze or a soft washcloth around an index finger, wet it, and gently rub your covered finger against your child’s gums.
Clean your infant’s gums once a day, at minimum. Bath time is usually a convenient option. Consider wiping those tiny gums after every feeding to prevent dental caries (cavities) from forming.
This practice serves several purposes.
First, it cleans the gums and prevents gingivitis, a gum disease.
Second, it keeps you intimately aware of your child’s oral development—you’ll quickly notice any emerging teeth.
Third, this practice helps your child get used to an oral care routine. It’s easier to graduate to a child’s toothbrush if your baby is already used to some form of gum cleaning.
- Regularly Brush Teeth
Once your child’s first tooth grows in, establish a regular brushing routine. Use a toothbrush with a large handle for you to grip and a miniature head with soft bristles for your baby’s mouth.
Some parents might think baby teeth aren’t important since adult teeth will replace them anyway. However, the dental habits you create early on can have a real impact on your child’s future teeth. Remember: brush your child’s teeth at least twice a day. Then, continue to wipe down the gums where teeth have not yet emerged.
- Stop the Pacifier
Pacifiers are useful tools when your baby is young. In fact, some studies link pacifier usage to decreased SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) risks. However, as your child gets older, sucking on a pacifier can lead to a misaligned bite.
Before age two, if your child sucks on a pacifier or a thumb, tooth alignment issues generally correct themselves automatically. This is not the case as your child gets older. Children may require corrective braces if the habit impacts their adult teeth. Therefore, try to wean your child off the pacifier before he or she turns two.
- Avoid Bedtime Bottles
It’s common practice to give children a bottle at bedtime. However, once babies have teeth, parents should avoid sending them to bed with a bottle full of milk or juice. The sugar in these liquids stays on teeth all night long. And, as everyone knows, sugar can cause cavities.
As your baby grows old enough to drink water, it’s fine to offer a bottle of water at bedtime.
- Schedule a Dentist Appointment
Your child should visit the dentist by their first birthday. Choose a pediatric/family dentist’s office. Their experience with children will be invaluable. Also, make sure to schedule the appointment for a time of day when your child will be alert.
The dentist will examine your child’s mouth and teeth for any signs of potential problems. He or she will also check your baby’s oral and facial development.
This examination provides a great chance to ask any questions you have regarding teething, thumb sucking, fluoride, and similar topics.
- Watch for Caries/Cavities
Examine your child’s mouth and teeth regularly. If your child cries more often and reaches toward his or her teeth, a new tooth may be coming in, or an existing tooth might have a cavity. Look for yellow discoloration on your child’s teeth, or be on the lookout for swollen cheeks. You may be able to find minor enamel pitting as well.
If you suspect your child has a cavity, visit a dentist as soon as possible.
- Skip These Snacks
Some foods are more prone to sticking on the teeth than others. Starches and sticky foods tend to get stuck between teeth. If not dislodged, these foods can cause cavities and dental diseases.
Avoid the following foods as snacks:
- Peanut butter sandwiches
- Dried fruit
- Gummy candies
These foods aren’t inherently bad. You can still offer them during mealtimes instead (when food is more easily dislodged from teeth). If your child insists on any of these foods for snack time, follow up with a glass of water.
Preparing for a new baby is exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. Amid your plans for mental stimulation and baby exercises, make sure you take your child’s dental care into consideration.