You’re finally comfortable with your setting at home and newborn at your side. Things are falling into a routine as you carefully tend to his needs. However, you may be unaware of one particular area that needs your care, too … Baby’s tiny gums. A pediatric dentist should be seen by the time your baby's first tooth appears.
Does it Really Matter?
This is a question many parents often ask, just thinking that baby teeth will fall out and be replaced by bigger ones, so what's the big deal? However, George A. Adams, Jr., D.M.D., of Adams Pediatric Dentistry in Nashville, says, “Even though baby teeth will eventually be replaced, some of those teeth will remain in the mouth as late as 12 or 13 years old.” That's why good oral care should start early.
"Children's baby teeth maintain space for the developing permanent teeth, allow for chewing, and build self-confidence in a growing child," explains Cheri K. Roque, D.M.D., of Children’s and Adolescent Dentistry of Franklin. "The last baby tooth normally exfoliates around age 12 so the baby teeth play a pivotal role in a child's development. Untreated cavities in baby teeth can cause serious infections including facial swelling, cellulitis and early loss of the baby teeth," she adds.
In order to help your child avoid pain and infection, it’s important to keep those baby teeth healthy. Even before your baby sports his first tooth, it's a good idea to get into the habit of wiping his gums with gauze or a soft wet washcloth during bath time, says the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. You don't need to use any toothpaste yet. Simply wrap the cloth or gauze around your index finger and rub it gently over his gums.
It’s exciting when that first baby tooth makes an appearance. Now's the time to begin a good brushing routine.
Adams encourages you to get in the habit of brushing Baby’s tooth using a soft-bristled toothbrush in gentle, circular motions every morning and night. Continue to clean the toothless gums with a cloth or gauze. If you're having a hard time getting comfortable in order to brush Baby's tooth, try positioning yourself behind his head so your chest can support him for better control, Adams says.
"I recommend trying to stick to a consistent schedule for your child's oral hygiene routine," says Roque. "Try to brush the same times every day. For example, every morning, brushing either before breakfast or after, that way it's easier for your child to learn when he's supposed to brush as he gets older. Having a special time to brush helps all of us remember and not forget," she adds.
Make sure the toothbrush you use on Baby has an appropriately-sized head, or try a different kind of brush. "I recommend a toothbrush in the shape of a ring for a baby and young toddler's first toothbrush," suggests Roque. "These round toothbrushes are safe for a child to hold and fun for the young, developing child." Adams encourages you to brush your baby's pearly whites two to three times daily. As more teeth arrive, aim for two minutes for each brushing session, flossing daily as adjacent teeth begin to touch, and limiting your child to only water after night-time brushing. “Any food or drink that is allowed to sit on the teeth overnight, can lead to decay of the enamel,” adds Adams.
Your Pediatric Dentist Visit
Roque recommends a child's first dental visit to be around age 1. "As a general rule, I tell my parents we'd like to see their child for their first dental visit when he has eight teeth or when he is 18 months old," she says.
And don't fret about taking your child to the dentist: Baby’s first visit will be focused on fun, consisting of examining the teeth, answering your questions and discussing diet and nutrition concerns that may affect his teeth. So easy does it with Baby's mouth from day one: gentle daily swabbing of his gums until teeth appear and you can begin brushing, then a visit to the dentist at age 1. Easy! When you start early, you’re preparing Baby for a bright and healthy smile in the future.