Chew on This

The Importance of Caring for Baby Teeth

With summer in full swing, you’re probably checking off the list of appointments your kids need before school starts again, from haircuts and school supply runs to those regular trips to the dentist. 

Your kids may hate getting their teeth checked, but it is an important part of their health. Even how their baby teeth develop can play a role in how their adult teeth grow in, affecting their smile and oral health for the rest of their life. It is important to know how to care for your kids’ baby teeth, so that you can teach them to care for their adult teeth.

Development of Baby Teeth

Although the first baby teeth tend to appear and tug at our heartstrings at around six months, teeth start growing in during the second trimester of pregnancy, long before any have broken through the gums. It is important to start caring for your infant’s teeth and gums early, before teeth begin to emerge, in part to keep harmful bacteria from staying on their gums for periods of time, but also to get your little one accustomed to the sensation of cleaning their mouth. 

To do this, use a damp washcloth to gently wipe off your baby’s gums after they have had a meal. Do not use a toothbrush on your infant’s gums. 

Tooth decay can begin as soon as the first baby teeth grow in. Cavity-causing bacteria can even be transferred to a baby from your own mouth—for example, if you take a bite of the food before giving it to your baby. Cavities can also be caused through frequent exposure to sugary liquids. 

To protect against cavities, avoid putting your baby to bed with a bottle, since sugars from the liquid—whether it is juice, formula, or milk—will be left on their gums all night. These sugars can erode the enamel, which is the protective layer of the tooth that prevents decay. 

Over time, this can lead to discoloration of the teeth or a pocked-like appearance, or even cavities, which may require the removal of the baby tooth.

From Baby Teeth to Adult Teeth

Although baby teeth are used for chewing and speaking, they also are important for holding space for the permanent teeth. Loss of a baby tooth too early can prevent the adult tooth from growing in properly, potentially causing it to either drift or crowd the mouth as the rest of the adult teeth grow in. This leads to crooked teeth.

To avoid problems like these, begin brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as their primary teeth start to grow in. Brush them with an infant toothbrush and water for the first tooth or two, and, once they have several teeth, start using a very small amount of toothpaste — there should be no way for them to swallow a significant amount of paste. 

As babies become toddlers, it’s best to watch them the entire time they brush their teeth to make sure they don’t swallow any paste and that they rinse their mouths well. Even too much fluoride can cause discoloration of the teeth if enough is swallowed. 

These measures are important to avoid cavities, which can occur when food and bacteria is not cleaned off teeth, particularly from sugary food. Teaching kids healthy habits early on can help protect their teeth for the longer term. 

Habits like brushing teeth with fluoride twice a day, flossing regularly, watching how much sugary food and beverages they consume, and making sure they rinse their mouth out after a sweet snack are habits that will stay with them long after they no longer need your supervision. 

Making Dental Health More Fun

Looking for ways to make brushing fun can help your kids form these habits early. Creative ways to help your children look forward to good hygiene include singing toothbrushing songs, like “This Is the Way We Brush Our Teeth,” using apps like “The Disney Magic Timer App,” which incorporates a game into a timer, buying flavored toothpaste, and enthusiastically brushing your teeth along with your child. 

Similarly, getting a fun toothbrush that they like can make the experience more enjoyable. Make the toothbrush aisle of the pharmacy a treat! 

Going to the Dentist 

The same way it’s important that kids form healthy at-home habits early to ensure they take care of their smile throughout life, it’s also important to establish the routine of regular dental appointments. 

In fact, the American Dental Association recommends you take your baby for their first dentist appointment before their first birthday. 

Sometimes not even the best dental hygiene can prevent cavities, which is why it’s important to schedule regular dental appointments—anywhere from every three months to every year—to examine and thoroughly clean your child’s teeth. And right now, with summer underway, there is no better time to proactively teach your kids to care about their dental hygiene. 

Written by: Sarah Harder

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