By Steven Brady, TennCare Project Manager for DentaQuest
Who can resist a baby’s gummy grin? As hard as it is to imagine that tiny mouth will be full of teeth someday, it is equally as difficult to imagine that cavity-causing bacteria can begin to cause problems even before the first tooth even pops through.
Cavities are caused by bacteria in the mouth. The bacteria feed on the sugars and starches from food and create acids that have the ability to erode the protective enamel of the tooth, creating an opening for decay to take hold.
To help keep baby’s mouths healthy, there are many simple things parents can do. As they say, the best offense is a good defense, so routinely using preventive measures will help parents better position their children to avoid tooth decay, which can lead to other more serious health problems later in life.
Below are a few tips for parents:
- Schedule the first dental visit at age 1. Bring your child into the dentist by her first birthday or when the first tooth arrives, then continue taking your child for cleanings every six months. Baby teeth don’t stay forever, but it’s still important to keep those tiny teeth – and pink gums – in the best shape possible while they’re saving spots for permanent teeth. When the first few visits are preventive and don’t involve treatment, your child will view the visit to the dentist as a positive experience – and have a healthier mouth.
- Don’t share food. One of the first things new parents need to know is not to put something that has been in their mouth into their baby’s mouth. Cavity-causing bacteria is transferred through saliva, so whatever is in your mouth can be passed on to your baby when you share food. Some parenting resources have been recommending parents share mouth bacteria with their babies to inoculate them against allergies, eczema and asthma. While everybody has bacteria (some are good and some are not) in their mouth, it’s important to try to keep harmful bacteria from our children’s mouths during their first year or two or they can become dominant bacteria and the child could be more vulnerable to tooth decay. Make sure you wash off things that have been in your mouth before you give them to your child.
- Clean your baby’s mouth every day. Start early and use a washcloth with a little water to gently clean your baby’s gums every day. Continue doing so once the baby teeth start to emerge. You want that the spaces they occupy for adult teeth to remain strong. Their lower front teeth will show at about 8 months; upper front teeth show at about 10 months. First molars and eye teeth appear between 16 and 20 months.
- Skip milk before bed. The only drink your child should have before bed is water. There are sugars in milk and juice which will stay in your child’s mouth overnight. This can lead to dental disease and that can destroy the beautiful teeth of very young children.
- ¼ juice, ¾ water. Teach your children to drink less sugary juices. During the day, water down juices so they are about three-quarters water. Also, rinse out the child’s mouth with water after sugary snacks and drinks to further help reduce the risk of cavities.
Practicing these tips early creates a w-win scenario, setting the stage for your child to have a healthy start that will continue with them throughout life.