While baby teeth may only be temporary, they still play a critical role in long-term oral development and care: they are placeholders that will help ensure permanent teeth come in with the correct alignment, at the right time, and, if cared for properly, without any tooth decay. Teeth also have a significant impact on our ability to speak, so healthier baby teeth can lead to the development of stronger speaking skills.
Most babies get their first tooth around six months of age, and will likely have all 20 of their baby teeth firmly in place by the age of three. Due to these young ages, it’s especially important that the caregivers in a child’s life help establish good oral hygiene habits at home, as well as a positive relationship with a trusted pediatric dental office, too.
1. Caring for baby teeth at home
The at-home oral hygiene routines for babies actually begin before their teeth begin to emerge. Even without any teeth showing, gums still need to be cared for. We recommend cleaning the baby’s mouth after each meal – as well as before bedtime – in order to ensure there’s a clean environment for teeth to grow into, and to get the child accustomed to an oral hygiene routine. When cleaning gums, wet a clean washcloth or gauze and use it to gently wipe their gums clean. This will help get rid of any cavity-causing bacteria.
As soon as baby teeth begin to appear, start brushing them twice each day. The recommended schedule is once during the day and again before bedtime, and always using toothbrushes that are specifically designed for baby teeth. These tools have smaller heads, softer bristles, and larger handles than the usual, adult toothbrush, because they are designed to help you brush all surfaces of each baby tooth. When brushing, make sure to also use baby-safe toothpaste. Until a baby turns three years old, and is able to rinse properly, each brushing should include a tiny amount of toothpaste, no bigger than a single grain of rice. As safe as these toothpastes are, we still want to keep children from swallowing too much fluoride.
2. Taking a baby to their first dental appointment
Babies should go to their first dental appointment either within six months of their first baby tooth erupting, or before their first birthday arrives — whatever comes first. Even when a few baby teeth are already coming in, maintaining a regular schedule of dental check-ups is a critical part of pediatric dental care.
At these appointments, dental professionals will complete basic and preventive care efforts, while also monitoring for any potential issues. A regular and consistent checkup schedule will help the child develop a positive relationship with the pediatric dental office, while also helping dentists catch the earliest signs of bite issues, alignment problems, or any other orthodontic concerns that might require additional intervention. It’s a great way to help children avoid potential dental anxiety too, since they will be accustomed to dentist appointments as they age.
Before and after their first dental appointment, keep an eye out for any tooth decay on the baby teeth. It will likely appear as brown or white spots on the tooth’s enamel, and should be immediately addressed in a pediatric dental office. If this is not taken care of efficiently and effectively, a baby tooth could fall out before it’s ready.
3. Weaning a baby off of pacifiers and bottles
After reaching six months of age, the average baby is physically capable of drinking from a cup instead of continuing to use a bottle. This is good for their physical development, and is also good for their overall oral health: if a baby falls asleep while drinking from a bottle, it can lead to the growth of tooth-decaying bacteria.
The sucking motion that a baby uses with bottles and pacifiers can result in their tongue pushing their teeth forward bit by bit. Since baby teeth are placeholders for permanent teeth, this can mean that permanent teeth will come in out of alignment, and pointing further forward than is healthy. If your baby is especially intent on keeping their pacifier, there are orthodontic models that can help maintain better oral health while you continue working through the weaning process.
Oral health is a lifelong affair
From the moment the first baby tooth appears, the full teething process will likely last another two years, ending with all 20 primary teeth firmly in place. In addition to immediate positive health outcomes, this time is critical to help children build oral hygiene habits that will positively impact their health for years to come. Connect with the Rhoades DDS team today to schedule your baby’s first appointment, and to get your at-home oral care questions answered.