Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Dos and Don’ts of Oral Care

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family brushing teethImage Source: Microsoft Word Clip Art
  • Are baby teeth important?
  • When should I start my child’s oral care?
  • When should my child first see a dentist?
  • What dental problems could my baby have?
  • How can I prevent tooth decay?
These are common questions and concerns among most parents, and some of the answers might surprise you. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association strongly recommend starting oral care before your child has any teeth. Many parents think that baby teeth aren’t important since they just fall out anyway; this is an unfortunate and incorrect assumption. Baby teeth are the foundation to healthy permanent teeth, so it is important to take good care of them.

You can start good oral care while your child is an infant. Parents can use a damp cloth to gently clean the child’s gums after feeding. Once your child’s first tooth appears, it is appropriate and important to start brushing it with a soft-bristle brush twice a day. This can be challenging, especially once your child learns how to keep his or her mouth closed and not let you in to brush (a problem I am currently facing with our 1-year-old). In this instance, you can just give your child the toothbrush and they will naturally put it in their mouth. The different textures of the bristles and the brush make it very interesting for him or her to play with. Although this is not a thorough way to clean the teeth, it does help your child get in the habit, and they will eventually let you take over again because brushing is more familiar to them. They will want to imitate you brushing your teeth, so make sure you are setting a good example to them.

Baby bottle tooth decay, also known as early childhood caries, has been recognized as a significant public health problem. Many parents aren’t aware that putting your child to bed with a bottle greatly increases the risk of tooth decay. It allows the sugar in the milk or juice to pool around the teeth, which creates a perfect atmosphere for decay. If your child must have a bottle at bedtime, only put water in it.

Regarding visits to the dentist, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests “First visit by first birthday” as a good rule of thumb. Some dentists recommend a visit as soon as your child’s first tooth appears. Early examination can help parents learn proper preventive care that will protect children’s teeth and instill proper healthy habits in them.

Perhaps you might be thinking, "What do I do if my baby does take a bottle to bed every night?" The best advice is to stop. Get in the habit of giving them a bottle just before bedtime and then brushing their teeth or rubbing their gums (depending on if they have teeth or not) after the bottle. Make it a part of your bedtime routine. If you aren't using a bedtime routine, now is a great time to start. Babies love consistency and quickly learn what to expect. It gives them confidence, makes them comfortable, and will in time generally improve their sleep. This will also get your child used to the idea of brushing their teeth which will instill proper habits for them the rest of their life.

Remember that you are your child’s number one teacher. Do all you can to set an example of good oral care, and try to find ways to make it fun for your child. This will not only keep your child’s teeth and gums healthy, but it will save you the cost of fixing decaying teeth.

How do you care for your child's teeth?

For more information on how to care for your child’s teeth, check out these websites:



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