When it comes to matters of health, parents of newborns have a lot to consider. First time mothers and fathers are often overwhelmed by the dizzying number potential problems they read and hear about. It is doubtful that preventing early childhood caries (cavities) is at the top of the parental worry list. However, good dental health is a gift that can last a lifetime. It's never too early to engage your child in the positive daily ritual of preventive oral health care. Pregnant mothers can get a jump on the process by scheduling a visit to discuss matters with their dentist and taking care of their own teeth with a dental checkup before the big day. There won't be a lot of time for self-care once the baby arrives. There has been some evidence that indicates a link between gum disease in women and preterm deliveries and low-birth babies (source: National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research)
One obvious reason for a lack of focus on oral care in newborns has to do with baby's adorable gummy, toothless smile. Even though there are no teeth visible, bacteria can still cause problems. It's a good idea to gently swab an infant's mouth with a clean baby wash cloth or cotton gauze square at least once a day. At approximately three months, infants "discover" their mouths and parents will notice an increase in salivation. Once the teething process begins, parents become more attuned to the need for oral care.
Though the timing will vary greatly (from as early as four to six months for early bloomers or as late as one year for some) a happy milestone occurs when the first tooth breaks through the surface of the gums, generally on the lower front. Parents often ask, "When should I start brushing?" Gentle tooth brushing, twice a day should begin as soon as baby teeth appear. It's a good idea to brush after meals or when sweets or citrus fruits are consumed. Teething can be painful, so it's important to develop a very soft-touch approach to tooth brushing in the initial stages.
By age two or three, many children have acquired a full set of 20 primary teeth – ten uppers and ten lowers. These baby teeth require daily attention. Parents need to be patient and take the time (at least twice a day) to brush their children's teeth. Setting designated times for brushing, after breakfast and before bedtime, helps establish consistency. One of the most important lessons to impart to children is setting the daily example of faithful brushing and flossing by parents. Children naturally want to imitate their parent's actions.
Instructing toddlers on how to brush is crucial because the motion and movements of the brush inside the mouth are difficult for children to master. Demonstrate proper technique by showing how to hold the brush at a 45-degree angle and gently brushing for a full two minutes. Children will have difficulty at first, but will slowly start gaining the skills they need to properly care for their own teeth. Your child's dentist or hygienist can also help demonstrate correct brushing technique and provide strategies for making them fun. It's also important to remember to replace toothbrushes on a regular basis. In fact, the American Dental Association recommends replacing toothbrushes every three to four months or sooner if bristles become frayed.
As soon as your child is old enough to understand the concept of spitting and not swallow mouthwash, it can be added to his or her dental care routine. Most kids enjoy using a rinse or mouthwash to help keep their teeth healthy and breath smelling fresh. As a side note, remember to always supervise the use of mouthwash, and to keep it out of children's reach when not in use.
Flossing is a key component to dental care and one of the best ways to prevent gum disease from starting. Don't think of flossing as an occasional activity. It should be an everyday step in a child's dental plan.
The American Dental Association recommends that children visit the dentist by their first birthday. These early visits can help in the detection of common childhood oral disease and cavities. They can also help build a comfort level with the dentist so that they don't develop fear as they grow older.
Written by Dr. Jack Gruber, DDS for The Healthy Moms Magazine and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.