Seeing your baby’s first tooth is an exciting milestone. Most little ones will get their first (primary) teeth around 6 months of age, though tiny teeth can emerge as early as 3 months.
Did you know cavities can develop as soon as your baby has teeth? Since baby teeth will eventually fall out, it might not seem that important to take good care of them. Surprisingly, your child’s first teeth are essential to the health of their permanent teeth — and the foundation for lifelong health.
Cavities can form when the shiny surface of our teeth — the enamel — is harmed by common bacteria living in our mouths. The bacteria feed on sugary substances left behind from what we eat and drink. In the process, they create acids that attack tooth enamel, opening the door for tooth decay.
Even the natural sugars in breast milk and formula can kick-start the process of tooth decay. And even though primary teeth start falling out when kids are around 6 years old, what happens before then will influence your child’s dental health over the long term. Research shows proper diet and dental hygiene habits during a child’s infant and toddler years reduce the risk of tooth decay as they become older.
Even though we have made great strides in preventing tooth decay, it is the most common chronic health problem in children. In fact, 23% of all kids will get cavities before their fifth birthday. Consider:
— Decayed baby teeth may need to be taken out by the dentist, which can be painful and frightening for your child (and costly for your family)
— Missing baby teeth leave gaps, causing nearby teeth to shift around. This can keep your child’s permanent teeth from coming in correctly, which might mean braces later
— Kids (and adults) need healthy teeth to speak clearly and chew their food thoroughly, the first step in healthy digestion. A bright, shining smile gives a child confidence, too — an essential part of making friends, getting along in school and enjoying life
Here are steps recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for preventing cavities in babies and young children.
— No bottles in bed. Putting your child to sleep with a bottle allows the sugars found in formula and breast milk to linger on teeth, setting the stage for tooth decay. (In fact, many doctors and dentists refer to early cavities as baby bottle tooth decay).
— Handle pacifiers, spoons and cups with care. Tooth decay-causing bacteria can easily move from mouth to mouth. So, for example, you should avoid putting a pacifier in your mouth and then giving it to your child or tasting your baby’s food before offering them a bite from the same spoon.
— Cleanse little mouths after each meal. Even before your infant’s first teeth breakthrough, it is important to get into a healthy routine. Wipe the gums with a clean, damp washcloth or gauze pad after each feeding. When baby teeth come in, switch to a soft-bristled toothbrush with a smear (about the size of a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste. Around your child’s first birthday, create a healthy routine of brushing two times daily for two minutes each time. Consider setting up a bedtime routine of brushing your child’s teeth after their last feed, reading them a book and then getting them to bed at a regular bedtime: brush, book, bed.