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By. Dr. John Nakhla, DDS

When should I brush my baby’s teeth? When should my baby start seeing a dentist? I don’t see any teeth yet – is something wrong?

Many good parents want to maintain their child’s oral health, but they have questions. It can be tough to figure out just how much dental care your child needs. Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions parents ask.

Smiling ChildWhen Should I Begin Worrying About My Baby’s Teeth?

When your beautiful little baby is born, there are 20 primary (baby) teeth already embedded in the jaw, just waiting to come out. With that in mind, oral hygiene starts well before you see that first tooth. Running a damp washcloth over your baby’s gums after feedings can prevent accumulation of bacteria and other damaging particles in the mouth. Soon enough, a few teeth will show; you can then begin to brush them with a soft-bristled child’s toothbrush.

Good feeding habits are a big part of keeping your baby’s teeth healthy. While leaving a bottle in his or her mouth as they sleep may be convenient, but it also puts your baby’s teeth in serious danger of decay. The sugars found in juice and milk end up sitting on his or her teeth for hours, eating away at the outer enamel layer of teeth. If you see pitted, discolored front teeth in your baby’s mouth, these are tell-tale signs of bottle mouth. Severe cases of bottle mouth may need extraction of all the front teeth to prevent spread of decay in the mouth, leaving your baby with no front teeth until his or her permanent adult teeth grow in. Limit and monitor specific feeding times for your baby each day.

When Should My Baby Start Seeing a Dentist?

For a variety of reasons, getting your baby in to see the dentist early gets them going on path towards a lifetime of oral health.

Proper development and eruption of baby and permanent teeth is a good indicator of a healthy, growing child. Interruptions or abnormalities in your child’s teeth can sometimes be found even before his or her first birthday. Starting an early, regular schedule of checkups with your dentist is your best bet for early detection.

It’s no secret, the dentist’s office can be a scary place for a child. Finding a dentist that you and your child are comfortable with from early on will better acclimate him or her with the dentist’s office and help make future visits much easier.

Every kid is different, and each young boy or girl needs specific care, instruction and considerations to help guide them to a lifetime of oral health.

How can my baby’s diet effect his/her teeth?

First and foremost, your child needs the right building blocks to develop healthy white teeth; an adequate intake of calcium, phosphorus, fluoride, and other minerals and vitamins is very important. Vitamin C in particular is crucial for healthy gums.

It may seem impossible to completely eliminate sugars in your baby’s diet, but you’ll want to limit them as much as possible — especially refined sugars (found in commercial teething biscuits… go figure!) and sticky natural sugars (such as those in dried fruits). Keep sweets to a bare minimum — no more than once or twice a day — and serve only with meals. To cut back on sugar, only offer juice in a watered-down form and only with snacks and meals, not as an all-purpose tummy filler.

If you can’t brush your baby’s teeth after he/she’s had a high-carb or sugary snack? Just slip your baby a slice of cheese. In addition to being high in calcium, cheeses, like Swiss and cheddar, stimulate saliva production (more drool!), which helps wash away cavity-causing acids and sugars from the mouth.

What about the baby bottle & sippy cup?

While your baby may still love his/her bottle, you still want to get him/her used to drinking from a cup sooner rather than later. Bottles and sippy cups containing milk or juice have been associated with tooth decay because they allow the liquid to pool in babies’ mouthes and on their teeth. If you’re afraid your child will make too much of a mess drinking from a cup, use a sippy with a straw or just put water or very diluted juice in the sippy. Also, don’t let him/her go to bed with a bottle. He/she will probably sleep with the nipple in his/her mouth. The drops of liquid that come out are quickly broken down into acid and tooth erosion follows. Even before your child has any teeth, ban the bottle from sleeping; it will only make things harder if you wait until later to take it away.

I hear a lot about flouride, is it good or bad for my baby?

Last but not least, proper flouride intake is crucial. Babies younger than six months old do not need fluoride supplements. Once your baby passes that age, you can give a fluoride supplement if your local water supply isn’t fluoridated (check with your local water district or look it up online at http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/MWF). But be wary; too much fluoride can be as bad for your baby’s teeth as too little. If your child is getting too much flouride, a condition called fluorosis can develop that causes unattractive mottling of the teeth (and, in severe cases, pitting that contributes to tooth decay). Don’t use flouridated toothpastes with your child until you are sure they won’t swallow the toothpaste, as this can contribute to flourosis as well.

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