Care and cleaning of your child’s teeth is a collaboration between you and your pediatric dentist, but there really is a lot you can do on your own to prevent potential oral health problems before they occur.
There is a wide variation in the age that babies cut their first teeth, but the first teeth usually appear between five and seven months. Teething often causes problems like sore and painful gums, which may make babies cranky and irritable, reduce their appetite, or even cause diaper rash. Since so many teeth are cut during the first two years, there may be many trying times.
A baby often has an elevated temperature during teething. A fever of lOO°F (38°C) or higher, however, requires a call to the pediatrician. If feverish, give your baby plenty of liquids. It is important to get the fever down as quickly as possible, but do not give him any medicine without your pediatrician’s advice. If your baby has diarrhea, cut out fruits and fruit juice until symptoms have disappeared, but do not eliminate or decrease breast milk or formula. Plain, pureed boiled rice can also be helpful.
For babies, rubbing the gums with a clean finger may ease some of the discomfort, and clean and frozen washcloths or terrycloth may be nice for them to chew on. Your baby may try to put hard objects in her mouth, so be careful that the object is not something she might choke on. Extra love, patience, and cuddling will be needed at this time.
For toddlers, frozen berries, fruits, and some vegetables (cut into small pieces to prevent choking) and other cooked and frozen foods like mini waffles are popular during periods of teething, as they soothe swollen gums. If you feel your child might need medication for relief, ask your pediatrician.
A balanced diet is not only important to infants’ and toddlers’ general health, but also for their dental health. Baby and toddler tooth decay had until recently been blamed primarily on baby bottle tooth decay syndrome, cavities developed from allowing a child to drink from bottles of juice or milk while falling asleep, which can cause the liquid to pool in the mouth. A broader viewpoint now includes the following other causes of tooth decay and methods of prevention:
- Start early with good nutrition, eating habits, and oral hygiene.
- Don’t dip pacifiers in sugar, honey, or juice. (Never give honey to a baby less than a year old under any circumstances.)
- Limit fruit juices to’/2 cup (120 ml) daily.
- Do not offer juice or other sweet liquids in a bottle-only in a cup. If you must give your baby something to suck on at bedtime for comfort, use only water or a pacifier.
- Wipe your baby’s gums with a soft, wet washcloth to remove harmful bacteria.
- When your baby has a few teeth, either brush them with a soft-bristle brush or wipe them off after meals with a wet piece of gauze.
- Pay an early visit to a pediatric dentist.
Between six and twelve months of age, your baby will generally cut about eight teeth. These primary teeth are important for chewing food, speech, and good appearance. Baby teeth also help reserve space in the jaws for permanent teeth-all significant reasons for keeping them healthy. As soon as the teeth break through, clean them daily with a damp cloth, gauze pad, or soft baby brush. Use only fresh water, no toothpaste. Daily cleaning is essential, as this is the time when solids and juices are added to the diet.
Oral bacteria feed on sugar and starches that are left on the teeth for more than 20 minutes, producing acids that destroy tooth enamel and cause cavities. Foods that tend to cling to baby teeth include sugary foods and high-starch snacks, such as dried fruit crackers, breadsticks, and teething biscuits. Eating Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Swiss cheese immediately after sugary and high-starch foods may counteract some of the negative effects but not as thoroughly as cleaning the teeth.
If your water supply is not fluoridated and the natural fluoride content of your water is low, your pediatrician may prescribe a fluoride supplement around six months. By your baby’s first birthday, visit a pediatric dentist and ask for a demonstration and information on proper brushing techniques.
Toddlers are not developmentally ready to brush their teeth by themselves yet, but between eighteen months and two years, start teaching your toddler to spit out toothpaste. So long as it is not swallowed, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste on the toothbrush and guiding her hand, help her brush her teeth.
Training toothpaste without fluoride, which is safe to swallow, is also available for toddlers.
Fluoride, a trace mineral present in varying concentrations in soil and water, plays an important role in the maintenance of healthy teeth and bones. It contributes to the growth of new enamel and also strengthens it, making the teeth more resistant to decay.
According to the American Dental Association, research shows that fluoride reduces children’s cavities by up to 50 percent. As a direct result of water fluoridation and over-the-counter fluoride products, half of all children entering first grade today have never had a single cavity, compared with 36 percent in 1980 and 28 percent in the early 1970s. Note that research in areas where the drinking water is naturally rich in fluoride has confirmed the safety of fluoride in the water supply. Virtually all major health organizations endorse and support the use of fluoride as an important tool in promoting dental health.
Last, try not to give your child sugar-rich foods that stick to the teeth, such as mints, lollipops, or hard candy. Avoid soft, sticky sweets such as toffee, fruit leather, and dried fruits (unless soaked and cooked). Instead of sweet snacks, offer cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt, or fresh fruit. Variety, moderation, and attention to healthful between-meal snacks will benefit oral and general health.