A new baby brings such joy to a family, and along with all that happiness can be some concerns. How do you protect that tiny little being and give them the best chance for a happy, healthy life? While many new parents are worried about germs, car seat safety, and how to get their new little one to sleep, they probably are not too concerned about dental health just yet. After all, during the first few months of life, babies are all gums. But, there are a few basic things you can do in the first year of life to ensure that your baby develops healthy teeth.
Breastfeeding. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that babies who were exclusively breastfed for 3-6 months (no bottles) were 33% less likely to develop any sort of misalignment of their teeth. If the baby was exclusively breastfed 6 months or longer, the risk dropped by 44%. We all know that mother’s milk is best for baby because of what it contains, but now we are learning that the actual mechanism of breastfeeding helps babies develop their oral cavity — decreasing their chance of overbite, crossbite, open bite, misaligned teeth and other jaw conditions.
Researchers attribute this phenomenon to the way breastfeeding requires babies to move their jaws and tongues in ways that help develop the oral cavity. This means that long before the baby breaks the first tooth, the foundation is being created for proper alignment of the teeth.
Pacifiers. While breastfeeding is good for babies’ teeth development, pacifiers are not. In fact, babies who are exclusively breastfed, but use a pacifier, have roughly the same chance of developing teeth misalignments as children who were bottle-fed. In fact, The American Dental Association has reported that pacifier use in 3- to 5-year-old children led to anterior open bite, posterior crossbite, mean overjet, and smaller intercanine distance of the upper arch. Beyond dental issues, pacifier use contributes to speech problems.
Tooth (and Gum) Brushing. Even before your baby’s first tooth erupts, get in the habit of wiping his or her gums with gauze or a soft wet washcloth during bath time. You don’t need to use any toothpaste yet. Simply wrap the cloth or gauze around your index finger and rub it gently over baby’s gums. This also helps get your baby used to having his or her mouth cleaned as part of the daily routine — making the transition to toothbrushing easier on everyone.
After your baby starts to get his or her baby teeth (usually around 6 months of age), you will want to clean the baby teeth with a baby toothbrush and tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste. Find a baby toothbrush with a small head and grip suitable for your hand. To avoid giving your child too much fluoride, use a thin smear of toothpaste or a dot the size of a grain of rice.
Gently brush on the inside and outside of each of your baby’s teeth, as well as his or her tongue twice per day. There is no need to rinse because you’re using such a small amount of toothpaste. Always replace any toothbrush as soon as the bristles look worn or splayed.
First dentist visit. Believe it or not, your child’s first visit to the dentist should be when they are about a year old. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children have an initial checkup at the dentist’s office by the time they reach a year old, or within six months of the eruption of their first tooth. Don’t worry if you think your child is too young, or doesn’t have enough teeth. The fact is, tooth decay can begin as soon as the first teeth appear. So, it is vitally important to have the first dental visit occur by one year of age. Plus, the earlier your child gets to know the dentist, the better. Building positive experiences at a young age helps avoid anxiety that can occur with older children visiting the dentist for the first time. Be sure to look for a dentist that has a lot of experience working with children. You can find more information on making your child’s first dental visit a success here.
Be a great example. Always remember that you are the biggest influence on your child. If you model excellent oral hygiene, it will instill in them the importance of practicing the same habits. And, that, ultimately, will help them develop lifelong dental health. For more tips and advice on your child’s dental health, contact Hall and Butterfield Family Dentistry today.