The health of your baby’s mouth may be the last thing on your mind. After all, there are diapers to change and many feedings to think about. While baby’s first tooth is a milestone to remember, now is the time to think about how you will help your baby have a healthy mouth.
You may be familiar with the most common mouth problems to plague little ones, like teething and thrush. But did you know that dental caries (cavities) are the most common chronic disease in young children? And that caries can develop as soon as your baby gets his first tooth? Read more about common mouth problems and how to help your baby have a healthy mouth.
Most babies get their first tooth when they are 5-9 months old and have 6-8 teeth by their first birthday. New parents may dread teething, but many babies will sprout teeth with little more than some crankiness and extra drool. And, of course, chewing on everything they can get their hands on. Tips to help your baby get through teething include:
- Give a cold teething ring to chew on. Never tie a teething ring around your baby’s neck, because of the risk of strangulation.
- If your baby is very uncomfortable, you may be able to give acetaminophen (eg, Tylenol). Talk to your baby’s doctor first to see if this is appropriate.
- If your baby will let you, massage his swollen gums with your clean finger or a piece of ice.
Thrush is a mild yeast infection of the mouth. It will look like white patches on your baby’s tongue and inner cheeks. Sometimes it may go away on its own, or you may need to give your baby an anti-yeast medicine. A breastfeeding mom with thrush may notice that her nipples are sore or very pink or that she has a lot of pain when her baby latches on. If you are breastfeeding, you may also need to treat your nipples for yeast infection so that you and your baby do not pass the infection back and forth.
You may think that taking care of “baby” teeth is not important since they will just fall out anyway, right? But healthy teeth are important, especially for babies. Healthy teeth help your child chew and speak clearly. Your child’s baby teeth hold spaces for the “adult” or permanent teeth, and they can affect the way your child’s jaw grows. Spots or stains on your child’s teeth can be signs of tooth decay. If you see these on your child’s teeth, take him to the dentist for an exam.
Start these healthy mouth habits now to ward off caries before they form.
Feeding Baby for a Healthy Mouth
The way you feed your baby can affect the health of his teeth. Follow these guidelines when feeding your baby:
- Never put baby to bed with a bottle. Milk can pool in your baby’s mouth and cause caries. Drinking from a bottle while lying flat can also cause ear infections.
- For babies aged one year and older:
- Limit fruit juice to 4-6 ounces per day.
- Teach your baby to drink from an open cup, rather than a bottle or sippy cup.
- Give only water or plain milk between meals.
- Give lots of fruits and vegetables for snacks. Limit cookies and other sweet treats to special occasions.
Cleaning Baby’s Mouth
You can start caring for your baby’s teeth as soon as those first pearly whites break through his gums. Follow these guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of Family Physicians:
- Start to clean your baby’s teeth regularly as soon as they come in. Use a soft washcloth or baby toothbrush.
- Clean your child’s teeth twice each day, especially before bed.
- Help your child with tooth brushing until they can do it properly themselves—usually at 7-8 years of age. Try brushing first and then let your child finish up.
- At two years of age (or sooner if your child’s dentist recommends it), begin using a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth.
Taking Baby to the Dentist
Take your baby to the dentist within six months of his first tooth coming in (no later than 12 months old). The dentist can help you determine your baby’s risk for developing caries and give you advice for how to prevent them. Your child’s dentist will:
- Check your baby’s teeth.
- Show you how to clean your baby’s teeth.
- Talk to you about ways to decrease your baby’s risk of caries, like:
- Limit snacking and drinks between meals, especially sweets.
- Give a fluoride supplement if your home’s water supply is not fluoridated. Contact your water supplier to find out if your water is fluoridated. You can also buy home test kits. Fluoride can protect your child’s teeth from decay and may even help to decrease decay that already exists. It is especially helpful for a child whose teeth are still developing.
The dentist may also treat your child’s teeth with a fluoride solution during the visit.
Good oral health is important for your baby, even before he has any permanent teeth. By starting healthy habits now, you can help your child have a healthy mouth for a lifetime!
- Reviewer: Kari Kassir, MD
- Review Date: 09/2011 -
- Update Date: 10/04/2011 -