Caring for Gums
Even before your baby’s first tooth appears (or, in dental jargon, “erupts”), his/her gums can benefit from your careful attention. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that parents wipe their infants’ gum and erupting primary teeth with a washcloth or wet gauze two to three times daily. This stimulates the gums and helps clean erupted teeth.
After breast- or bottle-feeding, wrap one finger with a clean, damp washcloth or piece of gauze and gently rub it across your baby’s gum tissue. This practice both clears your little one’s mouth of any fragments of food and begins the process of building a good habit of daily oral care.
Baby’s First Tooth
When that first tooth makes an entrance, it’s time to upgrade to a baby toothbrush. There are usually two options: a long-handled toothbrush that you and your baby can hold at the same time, and a finger-puppet-like brush that fits over the tip of your pointer finger. In each case the bristles are soft and few. At this stage, toothpaste isn’t necessary; just dip the brush in water before brushing. If your child doesn’t react well to the introduction of a toothbrush, don’t give up; switch back to a damp washcloth for a few months, then try the toothbrush again.
As a child develops, you might encourage them to say “ah” as you brush the tops and insides of the teeth. This lets them participate in brushing their teeth and helps you access their teeth at the same time. Then have them say “Eee” as you brush the cheek sides of their teeth. This helps their cheeks to be relaxed and allows you better access to the sides of their teeth.
While a child may want to brush their own teeth, a parent should “double-check” their work and actually repeat the entire brushing until the child is coordinated enough to do an adequate job himself, typically around age five or six.
Brushing with Toothpaste
When a few more teeth appear, you can start using toothpaste with your child’s brush. However, for the first three years, be sure to choose toothpaste that does not contain fluoride, because too much fluoride can be dangerous for youngsters. At this stage, use only a pea size amount of toothpaste. From the beginning, have your child practice spitting the toothpaste out after brushing, to prepare her for fluoride toothpaste, which should not be swallowed at any age.
Early Childhood Caries (Baby Bottle Tooth Decay)
Frequent access to sugary liquids can destroy your child’s teeth in a process termed Early Childhood Carries or Baby Bottle Tooth Decay. It occurs when a child is frequently exposed to sugary liquids such as milk, including breast milk, fruit juice and other sweet liquids. The ADA recommends the following steps to prevent your child from getting early childhood caries:
- Begin clearing your baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth. After every feeding, wipe the baby’s gums with a damp washcloth or gauze pad to remove plaque.
- Never allow your child to nurse or breast feed for prolonged periods (such as having “at-will” access overnight) and don’t give him or her a bottle with milk, formula, sugar water or fruit juice during naps or at night in bed.
- Encourage children to drink from a cup by their first birthday.
- Discourage frequent use of a training (sippy) cup.
- Help your child develop good eating habits early and choose sensible, nutritious snacks.