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A healthy smile starts during pregnancy, before your baby is ever born. When a mother’s mouth is healthy, her child is more likely to have healthy teeth and gums. From the moment your baby arrives to when they head off to college, their mouths are rapidly developing and maturing at an accelerated pace.
Early preventative dental care can help your child avoid common dental diseases and emergencies. The key is to begin at a young age, before symptoms ever have a chance to develop.
Before Their Teeth Come In
Oral hygiene starts when your baby is still an infant and before their teeth come in. After feedings, use a soft, damp cloth to gently rub and clean their gums. The stimulation feels good on teething mouths and reduces the chances of bacterial infections (such as thrush.)
Once Teeth Start to Erupt
The moment your baby’s first teeth come in, start using a small toothbrush to clean them at least twice a day. Make circular motions to clean both sides of the teeth and near the gums, as well as the chewing surfaces.
Scheduling Your Child’s First Dental Checkup
When should you plan your child’s first dental exam? Experts suggest visiting the dentist by the time your baby turns 1 year old, or when their first tooth erupts (whichever comes first.)
Although these early visits are simple and preventative in nature, they’re essential when it comes to intercepting preventable oral diseases. Continue bringing your little one in for dental checkups every six months.
Sippy Cup and Bottle Use
As your child begins to wean, transition them to a traditional cup when possible. Prolonged use of a bottle or sippy cup can cause several complications:
- Unnatural tooth alignment (including overbites and open bites)
- Changes to their oral anatomy and palate
- Speech delays
- Higher risk for tooth decay
By the time your child is at least 2 years old, they should be completely off of a bottle due to the way sucking shapes their mouth development. If your toddler insists on keeping a sippy cup throughout the day, make sure you’re not putting anything inside of it other than tap water. That means no milk or juice, period.
Thumb Sucking and Pacifiers
As with extended bottle use, thumb sucking, finger sucking, and pacifiers can permanently alter your child’s orofacial development. Ideally you want to discourage these habits as early as possible and no later than 18-24 months of age. However, they can be extremely difficult habits to break. We recommend beginning as young as 1 year old to prevent major orthodontic and speech concerns a few years down the road.
Toothbrushing for Toddlers
Children love to be independent and do things on their own. Including brushing their teeth! But if your child isn’t old enough to tie their own shoes, they don’t have the adequate dexterity to clean their teeth on their own either. Parents should continue helping their children brush two minutes, twice per day. Consider just following behind your child to re-brush their teeth as they work on learning this important self-care technique.
Choosing the Right Toothpaste
The ADA recommends using fluoride toothpaste for all children in the appropriate dose. For toddlers who can’t rinse yet, a rice-grain sized amount is ideal. As children get older and know not to swallow toothpaste, you can transition to a pea-sized amount.
Training toothpastes typically don’t contain fluoride. Since your little one’s teeth are still developing, it’s important that they get adequate fluoride from both toothpaste and tap water. A deficiency in this vital mineral could put them at a higher risk for weak enamel and unnecessary tooth decay.
If Your Child Needs a Filling
Scheduling regular checkups makes it easy to spot tooth decay when it’s smaller and simpler to treat. Even though your child’s baby teeth will eventually fall out, they still need them to guide their adult teeth into proper alignment. Leaving the cavity untreated would allow the decay to quickly spread into surrounding teeth, causing pain and unnecessary dental work.
Since baby teeth can decay at rapid rates, it’s important to place small fillings as soon as the cavity is diagnosed. Otherwise, there’s a good chance the tooth can abscess and require a pulp and crown.
Checkups and Cleanings
Plan to schedule your child’s dental checkups every six months. Regular preventative care not only ensures healthier teeth, but it also lowers your chances of your child experiencing dental anxiety or phobia as they grow up. It’s a win-win.
Contact us at (617) 527-6061 or request an appointment online.