Many well intentioned, super anxious parents come to see me in the dental office after they have had their first baby and have been bombarded with mommy blog after mommy blog of expected dates and ‘what to do/not to do’ of parenting. Being a new mom myself, I understand how overwhelming this can be. There are too many milestones to keep up with and too many things to stress about if these milestones are not reached in time.
- When do I first take my baby to the dentist?
- Is it bad that he/she hasn’t gotten her first teeth yet?
- His teeth are slightly crooked, what can I do?
- When do I wean her off the bottle?
I would like to address some of these concerns and different ways to approach your baby’s dental health.
Milestones are just averages
First of all, its important to remember that these milestones are averages…..And they are exactly that, just averages. Just as many babies get their first tooth after 6 months and do get it before 6 months. There is no reason to worry if your baby is not getting their first tooth as soon as they hit the 6 month mark. If you have any concerns you can always go see your dentist and they can do a quick checkup for some peace of mind. It is recommended to bring the baby for their first dental checkup by the 1 year mark. If the baby is getting many of their teeth early on then you can go earlier in the year, but if the baby is a late bloomer then you can wait a bit longer. The main reason you are bringing the baby so early on is simply to check the health of the erupted teeth and to make sure everything is progressing properly. Another very important part of this appointment is to go over oral hygiene instructions with the parent and answer any questions they may have regarding proper care, diet, and expectations. In the next several months and even years of the baby’s life there will be a lot of changes with the teething process and even the shedding of baby teeth and eruption of the adult teeth. Sometimes this can be stressful on the baby and subsequently on the mother or anybody involved so its important to know what to expect.
Baby teeth are just as important to keep cavity free as adult teeth
The most important thing is to keep the mouth as clean and free of residue as possible. Baby teeth are just as important to keep cavity free as adult teeth. Think about it this way; Decay is bacteria eating away at the teeth. This bacteria is spreadable. Therefore, you definitely want the adult teeth to come out into an environment that is cavity/infection free. So, you must keep baby teeth infection free.
Baby teeth are extremely soft, significantly more soft than adult teeth. They really should not have any stains on them like adults because they generally do not eat/drink/smoke the same things adults do to stain their teeth. Therefore any stain on the chewing surface of the baby tooth is not necessarily a good thing and you should bring the child in to see the dentist. These little dark spots can turn into larger cavities fairly quick since the baby tooth is so soft. Now, their are some medications, like iron supplements, that can stain the tooth a dark color and this can be mechanically removed at the dental office.
Milk and Bottle Decay
Lets talk about milk and baby bottle decay. This is one of the biggest issues leading to decay in babies. Yes, babies can get cavities too. Its such a prevalent issue it even has a name; Baby Bottle Decay. I wont spend too much times talking about it because i’m sure every other mommy blog you’ve read has mentioned baby bottle decay and we all know it exists and we all know we should not allow our baby to fall asleep with the bottle. Again, i’m a fairly new mom and I know this can be extremely tough since the baby just loves to suck on that bottle until they fall right to sleep in the crib. And no mom in her right mind would wake a sleeping baby up just to brush their teeth! So what do we do? The most important thing is that we want the baby to finish the milk before falling asleep or even better, in the upright position. When the baby is laying down the milk gets pooled in the side of the mouth and becomes a constant source of sugar that bathes the teeth as the baby sleeps. Milk has a significant amount of sugar in it. Practice allowing the baby to finish the milk in the upright position and then wiping the gums/teeth with a washcloth and then putting the baby down to sleep. If this is not possible, due to whatever other baby instructions are given, then at the very least wait until baby has fallen asleep and then remove the bottle and wipe with a washcloth. I know this can get risky, but its worth it.
What should be in the baby’s bottle?
What should be in the baby’s bottle? Milk or water. That’s really it. Juice should not be an option at this point in his/her life. The way the bottle functions is that it dispenses a small amount over a longer period of time. You don’t want to do that with sugary drinks. At the age of 1, you should wean the baby off the bottle and start using a sippy cup. Personally I still encourage you to keep with milk and water for a while longer but if you must add juice, then please water it down and only keep it as a treat and not a regular drink. Juice is a big culprit of dental decay since its loaded with sugar.
Finally, lets talk about teething. Some babies handle teething like champs and you wont even be able to tell that they are getting another tooth unless you look in their mouth. Others appear to be more fussy and irritated by the process. This is may be due to the soreness and swelling of the gums as the teeth break through. Usually once the tooth cuts the gums, the pressure is relieved. Babies tend to chew on things more often and drool regularly during this process. Ways you can help relieve some of the pain is by using your finger to gently rub the area, or through the use of teething toys. Something cold and soft is usually best. Make sure it is safe to chew on. The use of teething gels which numb the affected area generally have benzocaine in them, and they are not encouraged. You can give baby tylenol if you feel like the baby is too uncomfortable and the natural soothing techniques are not working.
Happy Healthy Baby
There are a lot of things to remember with your growing baby. If you have any questions, never hesitate to ask a professional. But remember, time schedules are different for each baby. Habits are different for each family. As long as you do your best to keep the diet low in sugars and the mouth clean of residue, then everything else should be fine. Crooked teeth can be straightened. Spaces can be closed (although they are normal in baby teeth) And stains can be removed. Focus on a healthy, happy baby and keep up with regular checkups to monitor development and ask any questions you may have.