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Protecting the Mouths of Babes – Dental Care for Babies and Toddlers

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Protecting the Mouths of Babes

Protecting the Mouths of Babes – Dental Care for Babies and Toddlers

July 18, 2005
By: Diana Barnes-Brown for Dental1

Some parents believe it isn’t necessary to devote much time and attention to oral care for young children – after all, kids will lose their baby teeth anyway, so why spend valuable time and money on teeth that will just end up in the Tooth Fairy’s hands?
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Tips for toddler tooth care:

1. Massage baby’s gums and any protruding teeth with a moistened washcloth or cotton swab.

2. Pay attention to your baby’s bottle and pacifier habits – both can lead to dental problems.

3. Monitor how much toothpaste your toddler is using and if they are brushing properly.

4. Plan your child’s first dental appointment around the time of their first birthday.

5. Set a good example for your child by practicing good oral health habits.

For more information on dental care for young children, visit
the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

According to experts, however, time spent on oral care for the very young is important, because it ensures that adult teeth will grow in a healthy mouth, and helps dissipate fears of the dentist’s chair as kids grow up. In addition to laying the groundwork for healthy teeth in the teen years and into adulthood, early attention to tooth and mouth care and visits to the dentist can identify and prevent certain problems that are common in children.

While children under two years of age don’t need to brush with toothpaste (in fact, giving toothpaste to younger kids can be a risk, because they often swallow too much of it), babies as young as three months are candidates for basic oral care.

Most babies sprout their first tooth between three and six months. After that, parents can begin gently cleaning their baby’s teeth.

Experts recommend massaging the gums and protruding teeth with a washcloth or a moistened cotton swab to remove any plaque and debris, and to stimulate the area, increasing circulation and reducing the risk of infection in teethers’ sensitive gums. It can be helpful to work out a system so that all teeth get attention. Molars, the most susceptible to infection, should get plenty of attention, and all teeth should be thoroughly wiped down. This process should be repeated twice daily.

What about bottles and pacifiers?

As babies grow older, it’s important to take additional steps to ensure dental and oral health. For example, many babies and toddlers like to sleep with a bottle at their sides once they are old enough to do so. But milk, juice and formula leave sugary deposits on the teeth, and during sleep, when saliva production is reduced, these deposits are not rinsed away as quickly. Youngsters who insist on having a bottle can be given water, instead, which will satisfy the bottle craving while rinsing the teeth and gums.

Another common security item, the pacifier, can also cause problems. Children over a year old who continue to use pacifiers are at increased risk of ear infections and open bites, so it’s best to wean them sooner rather than later.

Tips for toothpaste use

Children old enough for toothpaste should be given only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste at first. Some like to gnaw on the bristles of the toothbrush, but this can bend the bristles, making them less effective in cleaning. One way around this is to give children one toothbrush for chewing and reserve one for brushing. Using toothbrushes with different colors or patterns can help kids (and parents) remember which is which. Toothbrushes used for cleaning should be replaced every two months.

For children who complain about necessary morning and night cleanings, using songs, games, or make-believe can make the process more fun. Some children can be taught to look forward to placing a sticker or playing “X marks the spot” on a homemade tooth care chart.

Around the time children are ready for brushing with toothpaste, they begin eating a wider variety of “grown-up” foods. This is a good time to scan diets for unneeded sugar, which can be found even in many “safe” treats such as all-natural juices, cookies and fruit snacks. Chewable multi-vitamins and certain medicines in chewable or syrup form may also be a source of sugar, so it’s important to check labels and make sure that sweeteners are used sparingly.

As babies grow into toddlers, they also become more active, increasing the risk of tumbles and bumps that may involve the mouth or teeth. A good trick for mild bumps, scrapes or bruises involving the mouth or teeth is to offer popsicles or other frozen treats to deal with pain and swelling. If there is a lot of swelling, the pain is severe, bleeding does not stop in a few minutes, or a tooth seems to be cracked or broken, it’s important to see a dentist to rule out more serious injuries.

Making a child’s first dentist appointment

In the absence of specific problems or injuries, some dentists advise planning a child’s first dentist appointment around their first birthday, while others feel it’s OK to wait until later in toddlerhood. Usually, these first appointments are a low-key affair, during which dentists can check for any abnormalities and give young patients some basic advice about brushing and ways to make tooth care fun.

When children are ready for their first dentist appointment, schedule it for early in the day, avoiding times when children are likely to be grumpy or sensitive, such as during naptime or mealtime.

If children are nervous, bringing along a teddy bear or favorite toy can be a comfort – some dentists are even willing to “demonstrate” on a doll or stuffed animal, so young patients can see they have nothing to fear. Often, dentists offer rewards such as stickers, ribbons or toothbrushes decorated with fun designs or favorite book and cartoon characters, which can be a helpful incentive for kids who remain doubtful about the process.

Good oral hygiene needn’t be a struggle for young children. If parents emphasize the importance of tooth and mouth care from the start, kids will learn that maintaining healthy choppers is important and easy to do. Parents who set good examples early on will meet with less resistance down the line, and are likely to avoid more extensive and costly trips to the dentist as children grow.

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