Building Blocks to Healthy Teeth
Babies love to play with blocks. Did you know that there are five important building blocks to healthy teeth for your baby?
Building Block 1: If you’re pregnant, take care of your mouth. Your child’s future oral health begins with you.
Pregnancy can affect a woman’s oral health, but most of the problems can be prevented or easily treated. Pregnant women go through hormonal changes that can make their gums sore and puffy, and cause bleeding. This condition is known as gingivitis. Nearly 60-75 percent of pregnant women have gingivitis, which is characterized by red and swollen gums. If left untreated, gingivitis may lead to periodontal disease, which is an infection of the gums and bone surrounding the teeth. It’s seen in up to 40 percent of pregnant women. Teeth may become loose and may eventually need to be extracted. To prevent this, a pregnant woman needs to brush her teeth with fluoride toothpaste, twice a day, for two minutes and floss daily.
Dental care – including x-rays, local anesthesia and pain medication – is completely safe throughout pregnancy. It may be best to schedule dental visits when you’ll be most comfortable, such as during the first or second trimester, or during a time of day when you’re less likely to be experiencing morning sickness. However, if you have an urgent dental problem, treatment can be provided safely anytime during the pregnancy. Pregnant women with untreated cavities can transmit decay-causing bacteria to the mouth of their child, increasing the chances the child may have many cavities.
Because the baby gets its nutrients from the mother, eating many kinds of healthy foods during pregnancy is recommended. Fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, cheeses, eggs, and whole grains are all good choices. Snacks that contain low sugar or no sugar – such as fruits, cheese or yogurt without sugar – are recommended. Pregnant women should drink plenty of fluoridated water throughout the day, avoiding sugar-sweetened drinks including juice, fruit-flavored drinks or soda.
Building Block 2: From birth, clean your baby’s gums with a soft cloth after each feeding or at least once a day.
Cleaning your baby’s mouth daily sets the foundation for good oral health for a lifetime. Whether breastfeeding or using a bottle, all milk contains a sugar called lactose that can increase the baby’s risk of getting cavities if the teeth aren’t cleaned well every day. Use a moist gauze pad or washcloth to clean the baby’s gums.
Building Block 3: As soon as the first baby tooth erupts, use a soft toothbrush with just a dab of fluoride toothpaste two times a day.
As soon as the first tooth erupts, you can add brushing to your baby’s oral health routine. There are many kinds of toothbrushes for infants; it really doesn’t matter which type is used if it is the right size for an infant’s mouth and has soft bristles. Use a small smear of fluoridated toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice. Continue to wipe the baby’s gums as well.
All primary teeth should erupt by about 3 years of age. As the baby grows, the infant toothbrush should be replaced with a toddler-size toothbrush. At 3 years, a pea-size amount of toothpaste can be used.
If the sides of the baby teeth touch each other, use dental floss to clean these areas.
Building Block 4: Take your baby to the dentist by their first birthday.
A child’s mouth should be checked by a doctor during well-child visits.
The first dental visit should be by the child’s first birthday, or within 6 months of the first tooth coming in. An infant or toddler may sit on a parent’s lap or in a dental chair.
The dentist will count the child’s teeth, check the growth and development of the teeth and tissues of the mouth, and look for early signs of tooth decay, such as white or brown spots. If there is plaque on the teeth, the dental hygienist may clean it with a soft toothbrush or spinning plaque remover. Depending on what the dentist finds, you will receive advice on cleaning your baby’s mouth, teething, thumb sucking, and the use of pacifiers, baby bottles and sippy cups. If your child is at risk for tooth decay, the dentist may put fluoride varnish on the teeth.
Your child may take their cues about going to the dentist from you. Talk about going to the dentist in a positive way and make it fun. Role-playing, reading books about dental visits, and reassuring your child are ways to reduce any anxiety about a dental visit.
Building Block 5: Limit drinks and foods with added sugars to mealtimes; avoid letting your child drink sugary beverages in a sippy cup throughout the day.
From the earliest age, a child’s diet can have a lasting impact on oral health. Many babies are breastfed. Breast milk is the healthiest food for babies’ teeth. It may slow bacterial growth and acid production. Breast feeding also reduces the risk of tooth decay because breastfed babies may not be exposed to formula, milk or other drinks that contain sugar. Breast milk does contain a sugar called lactose, so it’s still important to clean a breastfed baby’s mouth daily.
For infants, a baby bottle should only be filled with breast milk, milk, formula, or water. At age 6–12 months, a cup or sippy cup can be introduced. Doctors recommend that a baby be weaned from a bottle starting at 12 months.
Once a baby starts eating and drinking other foods and liquids, the protection from breast milk in reducing the risk for tooth decay declines. As a baby grows, diet changes often includes foods and drinks that contain sugar and starch. A starch is a carbohydrate that breaks down into sugars. These foods and drinks can contribute to tooth decay. It’s not just candy that's the problem; cookies, cereals, chips and crackers contain sugars and starches that bacteria in the mouth will break down to form acid. This acid can dissolve tooth enamel.
Drinks that have added sugar include soda, juice, flavored water, energy and sports drinks and flavored milk. These products are known as “sugar-sweetened beverages.” Constantly bathing the teeth with these beverages can cause rapid breakdown of tooth enamel. It’s best to only give a sugar-sweetened beverage with a meal, rather than allowing a child to sip the beverage throughout the day in a bottle or cup. Never put a baby down for naptime or sleep time with a bottle that contains a sugary liquid. If a bottle is absolutely needed, only fill it with plain water.
Help your baby build habits for a lifetime of healthy teeth!