Healthy oral care starts in your baby's first year. Even before the first tooth emerges, gentle brushing and taking similar precautions to prevent baby bottle tooth decay – also known as bottle rot – are absolutely necessary. It's never too early to start your little one on a diligent routine, and the following tips can guide you.
Sterilize the Bottle
Cleaning the bottle itself is the first step in keeping your baby's teeth healthy. Make sure the bottles you buy are free of Bisphenol A (BPA), which has been linked to developmental problems in children, and sterilize them properly before giving them to your baby. Keep in mind there are several ways to sterilize baby bottles: boiling the bottles in water, microwaving them using a steam sterilizer and even using an electric bottle steamer to kill bacteria that could make your baby sick and ultimately contribute to bottle rot. It's a good idea to sterilize baby bottles once a week to prevent this bacteria buildup.
Remove the Sugar
Infants can and do experience tooth decay, but it is most commonly caused by exposure to the sugars in milk and juices that make it easy for bacteria to grow. The longer this sugar lingers on the teeth, the higher the risk for decay. To counter it, avoid giving your baby a bottle at nap or bedtime, and don't allow him or her to walk around with it in the mouth. Get your child off to a healthy start by limiting or eliminating artificial juices and other sugary drinks; breast milk and formula are still best at this stage of development. Be sure not to lick pacifiers or share utensils, either, as they can pass on bacteria to your child and cause decay to set in.
Brush the Gums
Your baby may not have teeth yet, but those gums still need special care. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), early childhood tooth decay most often appears in the upper and lower front teeth. These teeth are vital to eating and speaking, so the sooner your child starts a brushing routine, the lower the chances of a bottle creating tooth or speech problems later on. Use a clean washcloth or gauze pad to wipe your baby's gums clean after each feeding. Once these incisors come in – as early as six months old, per the American Dental Association (ADA) – you can start using an infant toothbrush and gently brush with a dab of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. Try a kid-friendly toothpaste with a fun and familiar face on the package, such as Colgate® Kids SpongeBob SquarePants™ Mild Bubble Fruit®, to protect tooth enamel against the cavities that may grow as a result of an unsanitary bottle.
Of course, schedule that first dentist appointment to establish a routine before their first birthday, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Your child's budding teeth are important from day one. "Brush" up on these baby oral care guidelines and continue to sterilize your kids' bottles to give them the best chance of a healthy smile into adulthood.