It may seem weird to be talking about dental care for your baby when they don’t even have teeth yet but it is very important from the beginning. Oral health does not merely cover teeth but the whole of the mouth and it is crucial to instill good habits into your child early on. Your baby goes through a lot of changes and developments in the first year of infancy so there are a few things you should be aware of as a parent.
It’s important for you to bring your baby to the dentist at an early age, not only for the dentist to check your child’s oral health, but also to let your infant get used to going to the dentist. Dentist phobia can set in at an early age (as dentists are often demonized to young children) so to combat this, it is ideal for your child to get used to the dentist.
Teething for babies starts around 3-10 months old but this varies from person to person. Take your infant to the dentist when their first tooth comes out or when they turn one (whichever is earlier). Your child should have a full set of teeth by three years old but you certainly shouldn’t wait that long before taking them to the dentist.
Your infant’s first dental visit is generally a quick visit and would most likely involve:
- You sitting in the dental chair while your baby sits on your lap or lies on your chest during the exam
- Taking their medical history
- Discussion about teething
- Checking the baby’s occlusion (i.e. how their teeth and jaws are biting together)
- “Brushing” techniques and taking care of their oral health (more on that below)
- “Baby Bottle” tooth decay (where your infant develops dental caries because of frequent exposure to sugary liquids) and preventative techniques
- Dietary and nutritional advice
- Discussion about breaking bad habits such as thumb sucking
- Any preventative measures against oral traumatic injuries
Try not to frame dental visits in a negative light, as though it were a chore (or worse, as a punishment). This would only make dental visits harder for everyone involved. It is recommended that you explain to your child why dental visits are important and helpful before going to visit the dentist to prepare your child.
“Brushing” Your Infant’s Teeth
Babies and children do what they see their parents doing so it goes without saying that your oral maintenance would greatly impact how your child sees dental health. Even if they’re too young to understand why you brush and floss your teeth, it is always helpful for them to see you brush and floss your teeth regularly to instill good dental habits early on.
If your baby is teething, it may be helpful to give them cold (chilled, not frozen) teething rings/cloths/a dummy to suck on. Gently rubbing your infant’s gums with a clean finger can also help massage and soothe the teething discomfort. Before their first tooth erupts, you can also get your baby used to the idea of brushing their teeth by gently running a soft damp cloth over their gums twice a day.
Once their first tooth comes through, brush their tooth/teeth gently with a soft wet children’s toothbrush (no toothpaste needed until after 18 months). Flossing is also necessary, even if your baby only has one or two teeth, just to get your infant used to the sensation. Run the floss along the side of the tooth, and then the other side, to catch anything that may have been missed by the toothbrush. Your local dentist can demonstrate both brushing and flossing techniques during the dental visits.
Just like with dental visits, it is comforting for your baby if you brush and floss their teeth while they’re sitting on your lap.
Picking the Right Dummy
If you do decide to give your child a dummy to suck on, there are a few things to consider to make sure it is safe for your baby. These include:
- A dummy made of material that is flexible and non-toxic
- An unattached dummy (not fastened to a string/necklace around the baby to avoid choking) – the dummy should instead have a handle that makes it easy to grasp
- A large dummy in one piece (not in several parts, ripped or torn, to prevent swallowing and choking)
- A dummy with ventilation holes on the sides (so your baby can breathe through their mouth while sucking)
Always check the dummy to see if it is clean and undamaged before giving it to your baby. Do not dip the dummy with honey or other sweet substances as that will contribute to “Baby Bottle” tooth decay.