By Dr. Megan Posthuma (Estimated reading time: 3 minutes )
Babies visit their pediatrician or medical doctor so frequently in the first year of life, but the mouth is an area of their body which is often overlooked until babies are older. This is odd because the mouth is vital for many functions, including eating, drinking, exploration/mouthing, chewing, babbling and breathing. Yet, many babies do not have their first dental exam until they’re over age 2 or 3! As a new mom of a (now) toddler, I know all too well that the first year of baby’s life is filled with questions that revolve around the mouth — teething, feeding (solids vs. purees), drinking (bottle vs. sippy cup vs. cup), use of fluoride toothpaste, and developing an effective oral hygiene routine. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your child visit a dentist six months after you see the first tooth appear, or by your baby’s first birthday (whichever comes first).
Here are some answers to common questions I hear from parents that will help you in developing an effective oral hygiene routine and care for your baby’s mouth and teeth:
When do I start cleaning my baby’s mouth/teeth?
To limit the colonization of the bacteria that cause tooth decay, it is wise to wipe your baby’s gums and tongue after feedings, even before they have teeth! Use a clean washcloth wrapped around your finger, or commercially available mouth wipe (like Spiffies). Once you see the first tooth erupt in the mouth, it’s time to switch to a nylon bristle brush. While brushes with silicone nubs are great for oral stimulation and relieving teething pain, they do not clean baby’s first teeth adequately, and shouldn’t be used for that purpose.
How do I know if my baby is teething?
Unfortunately, symptoms commonly believed to be associated with teething (such as fever and diarrhea) have not shown a reliable statistical association with teething. This is likely because every baby is different, so signs and symptoms vary from baby to baby. Some reliable signs are increased drooling, biting on fingers and objects, irritability, more need for comfort, and refusing foods they used to enjoy. Pediatric dentists recommend giving your child a frozen washcloth or other chewable, cold item to relieve pain and giving cold, smooth, soft foods that feel good against your baby’s gums. When my son was teething, he couldn’t get enough frozen fruit in the little mesh bag.
When should my child give up a bottle and use an open cup?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends your child begin practicing with an open cup around 6 months of age. A bottle or sippy cup can be used for feedings while your child is learning to use the open cup (or they may be continuing to breastfeed). Tooth decay is more likely in babies who practice prolonged between-meal feedings from any type of metered cup or a bottle containing any beverage besides water. If your child drinks from a sippy cup or bottle, limit the feeding to mealtimes, only ever place water or milk in a sippy cup or bottle, and try to wean them from night-time feedings as they approach one year of age. Brush baby’s teeth at night after their bedtime feeding, so that they are sleeping with clean teeth.
My toddler fell and injured their teeth and/or mouth. Who should I call?
One of the many great reasons to establish a dental home around one year of age is to help prepare you for oral injuries that your child might sustain as they become more mobile. Call your child’s pediatric dentist first when mouth and tooth injuries occur!
Over 60% of US adults report having some degree of dental fear. Visiting a pediatric dentist early and often, and before tooth decay has arisen, is the very best way to set your child up for a lifetime of great oral health without fear!