When to begin?
Getting baby comfortable
Caring for baby’s gum
Caring for baby’s teeth
Why care for baby’s primary teeth if they will still fall out?
Keeping the tooth brush clean
Preventing tooth decay
Bottle feeding tooth decay
Dental visits
Tooth cavity

When to begin?

Good teeth care is recommended to begin even before that first tooth shows up. This is because though the gum is immune to the harmful effect of bacteria in the mouth, it is hard to pin point when exactly the teeth actually start coming in. Hence to prevent the bacteria which stick to the gum from damaging the infant teeth as they push their way out, it is safer to begin cleaning the gum even before the teeth is seen. Also, doing this will get your baby used to the idea of teeth brushing even before it becomes a compulsory exercise.


Getting baby comfortable

Before you begin cleaning, it is important you get your baby settled into any comfortable position that easily affords you an interior view of his mouth. Possible options include sitting on a sofa and letting him lie on your lap or seating him comfortably on your knee with his head resting on your shoulder. For an older child you can consider standing behind him and tilting his head slightly upwards so that you can see his teeth.


Caring for baby’s gum

Cleaning your baby’s gum requires no toothbrush or toothpaste. Simply…

  • Get a clean, soft cloth or gauze pad and carefully place it over your finger
  • Dampen the gauze pad or cloth by dipping your finger in clean water
  • Use the damp gauze pad or cloth to gently wipe your baby’s gum
  • You can repeat this exercise after every feed and before going to bed


Caring for baby’s teeth

If your baby’s first tooth is not spotted by his first birthday, don’t worry! Though most kids have their teeth coming in by 6 months, it is not unusual to see a few getting theirs as late as in the 18th month. Whatever timeline your child adheres to, here’s the nitty gritty to note…

  • Brushing your baby’s teeth should be done with a baby tooth brush which has a small head, soft brush and large handle
  • Beyond brushing the gums and the teeth, target the tongue as well in order to get rid of the bacteria which cause bad breath
  • Brushing should be done gently and in small circles in order to prevent injury
  • The average time for brushing the teeth of an older child should be about 2 minutes
  • Toothpaste products must not be used for children younger than 4 months
  • Due to the risk that comes with too much intake of fluoride, some dentists recommend using only water or non-fluoridated toothpaste until a child turns 18-24 months. However the American Dental Association has recently okayed the use of fluoride, indicating that the real concern should lie in the quantity of toothpaste used
  • For kids below 3, only a small smear of toothpaste should be used
  • For kids above 3 you can advance to pea sized toothpaste
  • Toothpaste should be spat out (not swallowed) in order to prevent high concentration of fluoride in the blood which could in return, adversely affect the development of your child’s teeth. Hence, it is important you coach your child on how to spit out toothpaste
  • Rinsing the mouth with water after brushing will reduce the benefits gotten from the fluoride in toothpaste. Hence there is no need  to rinse your child’s mouth since only a small amount of toothpaste is used.
  • Never indulge a child running around with a toothbrush in order to avoid self injury
  • You must supervise brushing until your child is much older and can (and WILL) actually brush properly and spit out without assistance. To spur him towards achieving this, get him to comfortably hold and use the brush independently by regularly standing with him in front of a mirror and guiding his hand as he brushes. This way he gets to feel and see the correct teeth brushing movement for himself. However note that his independence may not be achieved till he turns about 8.
  • To get your child comfortable with brushing, don’t make it a battle. Instead turn it into a fun game or attempt brushing your own teeth at the same time you brush his so that he sees it as something important you do as well
  • Flossing of teeth should begin once your child has two teeth that touch. Flossing will remove food trapped between two teeth and any bacteria which can potentially turn into plaque

Why care for baby’s primary teeth if they will still fall out?

Though not permanent, the primary teeth are very important because….

  • They are place holders for your child’s permanent teeth
  • They will help form your child’s face
  • They will enable your child talk more clearly and prevent problems associated with speech development
  • They will make chewing easier
  • They will eliminate the discomfort and infections which accompany tooth decay
  • They will eliminate the poor self image that could accompany bad dentition


Keeping the toothbrush clean

After using the toothbrush, keep it clean by…

  • Rinsing with water and then storing in an upright position
  • Don’t cover the toothbrush. Let it dry in open air
  • When storing, ensure toothbrushes of different family members don’t touch because germs can travel from one to the other
  • Ensure toothbrushes are never shared; even within the family
  • Ensure toothbrush is replaced every 3-4 months. However if the bristles get worn out before then, replace the toothbrush


Preventing tooth decay

When a child eats or takes medicine which has sugar in it, bacteria produces acid which can then go on to destroy the teeth. Hence…

  • Brush your child’s teeth at least twice a day and after taking anything which has sugar in it
  • Cut down on the sugary treats you give your child
  • Use fluoridated toothpaste because it makes teeth stronger so that they can better resist the acid and bacteria that cause decay
  • Avoid actions that cause bottle feeding tooth decay


Bottle feeding tooth decay

This occurs when children don’t fully down liquids. Hence the liquid which was not swallowed with saliva, remains on their teeth.  Acid which breaks down the teeth enamel is then formed, causing tooth decay. This decay is especially common in children who use the breast or bottle as pacifiers. To avoid it…

  • Avoid bed time feeding
  • If bed time feeding must happen, stick to water for older children
  • Don’t let your child sleep off with a bottle in his mouth
  • Don’t let your child use the bottle or breast as a pacifier
  • Wash down every feed with water. This will help rinse the mouth
  • Wean your child to a cup by 12 months
  • Clean your child’s teeth at least twice a day if you can’t make it after every feed


Dental visits

It is often advised that your child visits a dentist sometime between when his first tooth shows up and all his primary teeth come out. This is likely to occur between when he turns 6 months and 2 ½ years. However the American Dental Association recommends that this visit should happen by your child’s first birthday.

Scheduling this first visit early will get you and your child comfortable with the oral care procedures. Also, you will get early oral health education on age appropriate teeth brushing. Also gotten will be early assessment of cavity risks (and other oral health related risks) and determination of whether your child needs fluoride treatment. In addition, you will form an early relationship with a dentist, just in case of any future dental problems.

During this visit, a time-table of regular, future check-ups should be drawn up. It is widely recommended that these check-ups should be at least every 6 months. Also, try fixing these appointments with a pediatric dentist who actually specializes in children’s teeth.


Tooth cavity

Tooth cavity is a common type of tooth decay. It occurs when food is left on the tooth without brushing it away. Acid from the bacteria then collects on the tooth, softening its enamel until a hole, also called a cavity, is formed.

Signs of cavity include pits in the tooth and discoloration of tooth. However note that discoloration could also be caused by prolonged use of antibiotics.

The bacteria that cause cavities can be passed on from a mom with cavities to her child. Hence it is advised that cups and cutleries are not shared.

Also, fruit juice and drinks should not be given to kids below 6 months and even if over 6 months, avoid over indulging kids.

In addition, discourage your child from falling asleep with a bottle in order to prevent the the milk’s acid from gathering on his teeth.

*Note that there is no real confirmation that links breastfeeding with increased risk of cavity