Babies Need Dental Care, Too
June 27, 2021
You might think that you don’t have to worry about your baby’s dental health until at least some teeth come in. But it’s important for your child’s dental care to start right from birth.
“There are things you can do to ensure a healthy mouth before your baby is even ready for their first dental visit,” says UH Rainbow pediatric dentist Margaret Ferretti, DMD. “Regular dental care should begin by age 1, with a dental check-up at least twice each year for most children, and more often if recommended.”
She suggests following this dental checklist for infants and toddlers from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) to get your little one’s smile off to a good start:
Birth to 6 months old
- Clean your baby's mouth after feedings and at bedtime. Use water and a cloth or gauze, or use a soft infant toothbrush.
- Talk with your child's healthcare provider about using fluoride supplements, if you live in an area without fluoridated water. Also ask about fluoride varnish that can be applied to the teeth.
- Create regular feeding habits (bottle feeding and breastfeeding).
6 to 12 months old
- During this time, the first tooth should appear. Contact a pediatric dentist for an exam as soon as the first tooth comes in, but no later than your child's first birthday.
- Brush teeth after each feeding and at bedtime with a small, soft-bristled brush. Use a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice.
- As your child starts to walk, stay alert for possible dental or facial injuries.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics advises breastmilk for at least 6 months. The AAPD advises breastfeeding for at least 1 year. At about 1 year old, continue to breastfeed or begin weaning as you and your baby are ready. But also start giving your baby whole milk.
1 to 3 years old
- Follow a schedule of dental exams and cleanings, as advised by your child's pediatric dentist. Generally, dental exams and cleanings are advised every 6 months for children and adults.
- At about age 3, as your child learns to rinse and spit, brushing with a pea-sized portion of fluoridated toothpaste is best.
- Make the experience enjoyable for your child by using games or songs. This can help make the twice-daily activity pleasant for both of you
Baby Teeth are Placeholders for Adult Teeth
“Correct care of a child's baby, or primary, teeth is very important,” Dr. Ferretti says. “These teeth hold space for the future adult, or permanent, teeth.”
Here are some of the reasons why:
- If a baby's tooth decays, or is removed too early, the space for the permanent teeth is lost. It can only be regained through orthodontic treatment.
- Infected baby teeth can cause the permanent teeth to develop incorrectly. This can lead to stains, pits and weaker teeth.
- Baby teeth are important in speech development.
- Baby teeth aid in chewing food correctly, promoting healthy nutrition.
Most children begin losing their baby teeth around age 5 or 6. Children often lose the front teeth first. They continue to lose baby teeth until age 12 or 13. This is when all of the permanent teeth finally come through, except for the third molars, which are sometimes called wisdom teeth. These molars begin to appear around age 17 to 21.
Diet and Dental Care for Children
In addition to regular care, Dr. Ferretti also shares the following recommendations from the AAPD to make sure your child eats correctly to maintain a healthy body and teeth:
- Ask your pediatric dentist to help you assess your child's diet.
- Shop smart. Don't normally stock your pantry with sugary or starchy snacks. Buy "fun foods" just for special times.
- Limit the number of snack times. Choose healthy snacks.
- Provide a balanced diet, and save foods with sugar or starch for mealtimes.
- Don't put your young child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice.
- If your child chews gum or sips soda, choose those without sugar.
Most important of all, Dr. Ferretti says, “Be a role model for your child. Eat healthy foods and limit sugary drinks and snacks for yourself, too.”
In dental care, children are not just small adults. Young people have unique dental health needs and can benefit from the care of specialists who are trained and experienced in working with children. Pediatric dentists also are skilled in communicating with children of different ages and developmental levels to let them know what is happening and decrease fear and anxiety. Learn more about the specialized, child-oriented care at the UH Rainbow Dentistry at UH Rainbow Ahuja Center for Women & Children in MidTown Cleveland.