Your baby’s first year is full of many firsts. First smile, first laugh, and maybe even a clap or a crawl too. Another momentous first? Your baby’s first tooth. But if he or she only has one tooth, do you really need to see a dentist? Should you be brushing that tooth? How soon is too soon to begin caring for your child’s teeth? Dr. Michele Simpson offers some pointers on how to care for your new baby’s oral health from infancy and beyond.
During your child’s first year of life, they will likely be seen by the pediatrician at least a dozen times. Between the first few hospital check-ups, then the bi-weekly, weekly and finally monthly well-baby visits, their growth and development are monitored very closely. If your child is healthy, this is usually all you need until teeth begin to erupt. The first tooth shows up around the 6th month, but many children have gotten them earlier, and many more much later. We like to see children start coming to the dentist at around age 1, provided there are teeth present.
The first dentist appointment may be scary for your child, but it is relatively easygoing. The dentist may gently examine the teeth present and count them. They will show the parents the proper way to clean the teeth and go over which foods you should avoid feeding your child to prevent cavities. They may discuss your child’s access to fluoride, and if fluoride tablets or sealants are recommended if your water supply is not fluoridated. If your child is given a clean bill of health, you will be directed to make a follow-up appointment in 6 months, beginning your child on a regular dental exam schedule. Though we don’t do a full cleaning or x-rays at these early appointments, these appointments do normalize the dental exam for children, so when children require a cleaning and x-rays, hopefully, they’re already comfortable with the dental team and having their teeth examined.
But don’t think that just because your child doesn’t have teeth yet, you should neglect their oral health, either. There are many things you can do early on, to jump-start them on their path to excellent oral hygiene. The earliest thing you can do to instill great oral health habits in your baby is to massage your child's gums with your finger gently, or you can even use gum cleaning cloths that fit over your fingertip. This helps keep the mouth clean, and also soothes gums that may be irritated from teething. It also gets the child comfortable with you or someone else looking in their mouth and inspecting their teeth. When the child is old enough to sit up, you can also introduce a baby gum massager or an infant toothbrush, so they get used to the brush and brushing motions. You can hold these devices yourself, or if your child has good hand control, you may allow him or her to use the brush or massage themselves, under your direct supervision.
Once the first teeth begin to appear, use an infant toothbrush and clean the teeth and gums with a fluoride free toothpaste twice a day. While fluoride is essential to promoting strong teeth, it is not recommended in your child’s toothpaste until after the age of three, unless specifically directed by a dentist.
You can even begin flossing your children’s teeth at around 2.5 years of age- or when the teeth begin to touch, making it difficult to clean between them by brushing alone. A fun way to floss that often makes this process easier is to use colorful floss picks or floss buddies that are available in the oral care aisle at most stores and pharmacies. If you are nervous about flossing your young child and unsure about how much pressure to apply, ask your dentist to demonstrate the proper flossing technique. Done properly and frequently, your child will learn to never fear flossing!
Teaching your child to take excellent care of their teeth from a young age not only makes it less scary for them when it comes time for dental exams, but it also makes the outcome of those exams much more positive- and that’s an even bigger reason to smile! If it’s time to schedule your child’s first, (or any other) dentist appointment, give Dr. Simpson’s office a call at 910-791-7911.