While most babies don't start getting teeth until they are six months old, infant dental care is important from the very beginning. Many dentists recommend an initial visit before the child's first birthday to make sure teeth and gums are cared for and cleaned properly.
It is a good idea to get in the habit of cleaning your baby's gums soon after birth. Although there may be a little fussing at first, your infant will get used to having the mouth cleaned like other parts of the body. Many children grow to enjoy tooth brushing as part of their daily routine.
During your baby’s first year, there are a few conditions to be aware of, including:
Between 3 and 9 months, your infant's baby teeth will begin to emerge (erupt) into the mouth. Teething may make your child irritable or fussy and may cause restlessness, drooling or loss of appetite. However, it has not been shown to cause any other childhood symptoms.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Baby bottle tooth decay — also called "early childhood dental caries" — is one of the most important issues in infant tooth care. This condition is caused by frequent exposure, over time, to sugary liquids, which can seriously damage a baby’s teeth and overall oral health.
Sucking is a normal part of development that is comforting to children well into their first years of life. In fact, sucking often brings comfort even after a child no longer needs to get nourishment from a breast or bottle. During a child's first few years, sucking habits probably won't damage his or her mouth. But frequent and long-term sucking can cause problems. This is especially true if the habit continues after baby teeth start to fall out.
Although most babies’ teeth develop normally during infancy, it is important to know what is going on, so you can prevent issues in the future.
Although newborns usually have no visible teeth, most have at least a partially developed set of primary, or baby, teeth that begin to appear 3 to 9 months after birth. During the first few years of life, all 20 of the primary teeth will erupt through the gums. Most children have their full set of primary teeth in place by age three.
The teething process starts with the lower two front teeth (incisors), followed by the four incisors on both the lower and upper jaw. Then the first molars erupt, followed by canines (eye teeth), and then the second molars further back in the mouth.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
It is important for parents to understand the causes of baby bottle tooth decay so they can prevent it. Common triggers include milk, formula, and fruit juices, because the sugary liquids from these drinks pool around the teeth for long periods of time as your baby sleeps. This can lead to cavities, which develop in the upper and lower front teeth.
Some babies may have sore or tender gums when teeth begin to erupt. Gently rubbing the gums with a clean finger, an infant gum massager or a wet gauze pad can be soothing. A clean teething ring for your child to chew on may also help.
You can ease your child's teething discomfort by:
- Rubbing your baby’s gums to apply pressure
- Giving your baby a cold teething ring to chew on
Caring for your baby’s first teeth is very important, and helps set the stage for a healthy mouth.
Tips to clean your baby's mouth:
- Lay your infant in your lap. The head should be close to your chest so you can look down directly into your child's mouth.
- Clean the gums and the teeth — when they arrive — by rubbing a clean, damp, wash cloth along the baby's upper and lower gums. You can also use terrycloth finger cots, which fit over the finger and are made for this purpose.
- Follow these steps at least twice a day — once after breakfast, and once after the last feeding of the day.
- When the teeth begin to erupt, start brushing them at least two to three times a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and water. Toothpaste is not recommended until a child reaches age two. At that time, supervise brushing to ensure that your child does not swallow any toothpaste.
This harmful process occurs when acid formed by bacteria on the teeth, from sugars in foods and beverages, damages the tooth enamel, which causes demineralization, and eventually can lead to a cavity. To avoid tooth decay, never let a child fall asleep with a bottle in his or her mouth or to nurse continuously as he snoozes. If your baby needs something to suck on to fall asleep, offer a bottle filled with water or a pacifier.
If your child uses a pacifier, make sure it is always used safely: Never fasten a pacifier on a string or necklace around your child's neck, or else your child could accidentally be strangled.
Choose a pacifier that:
- Is one piece rather than several parts.
- Has ventilating holes on the sides.
- Is large enough so that your child can't swallow it.
- Is made of a flexible, nontoxic material.
- Has a handle that is easy to grasp.
- Always check the pacifier before giving it to your child. Make sure there are no rips or tears. If there are, replace it. Never dip a pacifier in honey or any other sweet substance before giving it to your baby.