The road to your baby's first birthday is full of milestones, from solid foods to first steps. But it's the most picture-worthy milestone – your child's first smile – that reflects the importance of good oral health even before his or her baby teeth erupt. By taking the time to care for baby gums properly, you can set a precedent for the same oral health in the future.
Compared to nightly feedings and similar tasks during this first year, healthy gums are simple to maintain. Oral care begins before primary teeth make their appearance because healthy gums can contribute to a healthier smile in time for teething to occur. To this end, here are some simple tips to start your baby's oral hygiene off right.
1. Keep gums clean
You may be off the hook for brushing, but the gumline still needs gentle cleaning at this stage. Keeping baby gums clean allows you to ward off bacteria while also helping to relieve soreness from teething. Dip a piece of clean gauze in water and wrap the cloth around your pointer finger (if your baby is teething, wet a corner of the gauze and then place it in the freezer to help numb the soreness). Gently rub the gauze along your child's gums at least once per day. If your baby is eating some solid foods without teeth, you can repeat this step after each meal.
2. Navigate baby bottle tooth decay
Baby bottle tooth decay occurs when sugary liquids are left in your baby's mouth for an extended period of time. If he or she falls asleep while drinking from a bottle, for example, formula, milk, breast milk and juice can also cause decay. The right time to watch for baby bottle tooth decay is from day one and by setting a rule that your baby never goes to bed with a bottle, you won't have to rely on this technique to soothe them to sleep when teeth start to come in. Instead, feed when they're awake and put them to bed having already gotten their fill.
3. Transition to brushing
According to the Nemours Foundation, your baby is old enough for a grain of rice worth of toothpaste once the first teeth appear. Because your little one won't be old enough to spit out the toothpaste, choose a fluoride-free formula that's safe to swallow, such as Colgate® My First® Fluoride-Free Toothpaste. Brush twice per day, and make sure you take part even when they're toddlers and want to do it on their own. A toddler won't brush as thoroughly as you, so it's best to help out until they can do so with proper technique.
4. Nix sugary foods
Foods that are high in sugar create the warm, moist environment bacteria love. That same bacteria can lead to gingivitis and tooth decay, so avoid sugary foods when possible. Your curious eater will likely start accepting solid foods around six months of age, but sugar-free foods like soft, cooked carrots and mashed sweet potatoes can help satisfy cravings for sweeter foods without the added risk of gum disease.
5. See the dentist
Your baby should see the dentist before the second birthday, no matter how many teeth have erupted. Here, the dentist can alert you to any habits or problems that could be affecting your child's teeth and gums without you knowing it. What's more, a pediatric dentist can help you understand brushing technique, especially as you continue helping your independent toddler brush regularly for healthier teeth and gums.
Baby gums undergo many changes during the first year of life. Your little one will smile, drool and even wince at the effects of teething, but healthy gums create the foundation for a lifelong relationship with good oral health – and a picture-worthy smile for the baby book.