Oral Care for your Infant
As a dental hygienist and parent, I often get asked questions about babies in relation to the health of their teeth and gums. I will go over a few key points for setting your infant up for a lifetime of optimal oral health.
The reason I call it “oral health” is because it’s not just about the teeth. It’s also about the soft tissues which include the gums, tongue, lips, cheeks, floor of the mouth, and the hard & soft palates. All of these components should all be checked at your baby’s first appointment to make sure that everything looks healthy and within normal limits.
According to many dental professionals and reputable sources (1, 4), a child should have their first dental visit within 6 months of their first tooth appearing or by one year of age. Although this may seem very early to some parents, the reason for this is to acquaint the child with the dental office, the instruments, the dental professionals, and also to talk about prevention and home care routines like brushing and flossing. Not much will likely take place during the first appointment but if your little munchkin is at all cooperative, the dentist may be lucky enough to briefly screen her for decay/cavities and most importantly talk to the parent(s) about your daily oral care routine & habits.
Most dental offices will give you an age appropriate brush for your infant and some tips on keeping their mouth healthy. Here are a few tips I share with parents:
-Use a damp cloth to wipe baby’s gums daily. Laying baby in your lap and lifting their lips out of the way is most thorough.
-All babies have a natural tendency to suck on things. Be aware that prolonged use of thumb/finger sucking and/or soother use can lead to changes in shape of the mouth and how the teeth occlude, or close together. Eliminating any sucking habits between age 2-5 is desirable.
- Introducing a sippy cup or cup by age 1 and allow the child to drink water or milk at mealtimes only. Juice is high in sugar and can easily cause decay.
- Never send baby to bed with a bottle. Decay can occur if milk sits in the baby’s mouth.
-Once baby has teeth, brush them gently with water only. Once they’re older you may want to consider toothpaste but NO FLUORIDATED TOOTHPASTE until your child can spit it out (around age 4 or 5)!
Teeth begin to develop at 6 weeks of pregnancy while the baby is in utero and continues until around 15 years of age. Once the baby is around 6 months old, her teeth may begin erupting. Below is a chart indicating the approximate time when baby teeth begin to erupt. Keep in mind that many babies may be later or earlier.
Babies tend to chew on things and salivate more heavily around the time when they get a new tooth. The function of the saliva is to soften the gums for the tooth to erupt. Chewing on toys or their fingers is also common and makes their gums feel better. It is NOT normal for babies to have a fever when their teeth are coming in. Please consult your baby’s doctor if he/she has a fever.
Occasionally a baby may have “thrush”. This typically appears as a white coating in their mouth that cannot be wiped off (2, 3). It likely won’t affect the baby much but on occasion it can cause him/her discomfort. Thrush is an overgrowth of a fungus, Candida albicans, which is part of the body’s normal flora. In particular instances, an overgrowth can occur if the balance between the healthy bacteria is upset, allowing the fungus to take over. Consult your child’s doctor if this occurs. Probiotics and an anti-fungal solution may be recommended.
I hope you have found this information helpful. Please feel free to email me anytime if you have more questions at Nicole@fullcirclebirthcollective.com. More information about toddlers and oral health coming soon!
Nicole Sailes is a certified Hypnobabies Instructor with Full Circle Birth Collective. Learn more about Nicole here.
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