6 priorities for the first year of infant dental care

The first 12 months of your child life are full of new experiences, triumphs and challenges — and many, many doctor visits.

The many checkups and vaccinations your child receives during the first year are vitally important, but you’re probably missing out on one important one: a visit to the dentist. That’s right: Your child’s dental health starts way before his first tooth breaks through the gums.

“Sooner rather than later” should be your mantra when it comes to infant dental care. Not sure what you should do — and when? Follow these guidelines to set your child up for healthy teeth and gums.

Start by Wiping Your Child’s Gums

There are so many things to remember with a newborn, but you should add one more to the mix: wiping your child’s gums.

The many checkups and vaccinations your child receives during the first year are vitally important, but you’re probably missing out on one important one: a visit to the dentist.

Starting soon after birth, gently wipe your child’s gums with a soft cloth — especially after feeding — to get rid of excess bacteria on the gums. It also helps your child get acclimated to dental care.

Comfort Your Child When Teeth Start Erupting

Baby teeth beginning growing early on during your pregnancy and the hard tissue develops by month three or four of gestation. The teeth stay underneath the gums until about six months after birth, then break through the surface of the gums.

Teething can be painful for your child, so don’t hesitate to use a cold, wet washcloth on his gums to help ease the pain. Cold spoons and teething rings can also help soothe the gums without increasing cavity risk, as can pain-relieving medications (like Tylenol) containing acetaminophen. Always ask your child’s doctor before giving medication — and never give a child pain relievers that contain benzocaine.

Make an Appointment with a Pediatric Dentist

Your child should see a dentist before he turns one, ideally as soon as the first tooth comes in. Though your child might not be able to understand what’s happening, the initial visit to a dentist helps establish a routine for dental care. Your child’s first dental visit also allows your dentist to catch potential dental decay or other problems before they become an issue.

One note: You should see a pediatric dentist, if possible. Pediatric dentists are like pediatricians and must attend two to three years of additional training after finishing dental school. They typically work with children from infancy to adolescence, allowing them to really get to know your child and his needs.

Many dental offices have pediatric dentists on staff, so you aren’t limited to only pediatric dental offices. Just be sure to confirm before making an appointment.

Brush, Brush, Brush!

Once your child’s first tooth comes in, switch from using a wet washcloth to a soft-bristled toothbrush. Any soft brush with a small head will work, or you can get a brush made especially for babies.

Ideally, you should brush your child’s gums — and new teeth — with a rice grain-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste twice per day.

Establish Good Habits

Simply brushing your child’s teeth isn’t enough to keep tooth decay at bay.

The truth is that even nursing your child or giving them a bottle puts them at risk for tooth decay. While not always possible, you should avoiding nursing your child to sleep — or giving him anything other than water in a bottle — before bed.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends stopping ‘at-will” breast feeding after the first baby teeth erupt and instead introduce solid foods. Avoid giving your child bottles with fruit juice — especially at bedtime — because the sugar can feed cavity-causing bacteria.

Ask a Dentist About Fluoride

As we mentioned, you should always use a toothpaste made with fluoride on your infant’s teeth. Some children — especially those at risk for developing activities — can benefit from having a fluoride varnish put on their teeth. Ask your child’s dentist if that’s something your child needs.

Most importantly: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your child’s dentist is there to help keep your child’s teeth healthy as they transition from no teeth to baby teeth and permanent teeth.

Posted In: Pediatric Dental Care