By Dr. Karen Stallaert
As a pediatric dentist and a mother of four, I’ve come up with the following tips for new parents. Remember these and your little ones will have healthy smiles for years to come!
Clean your baby’s teeth as soon as they come in
Most infants will get their first teeth by about 6 months. You can use a soft cloth or a finger brush when the first few front teeth come in (erupt) but I always recommend a toothbrush either from the beginning or at the latest, when the first molars come into the mouth. The toothbrush bristles allow parents to access the area of the tooth near the gingival (gum) margin and also cleans the pits and grooves of the molars.
Your baby may enjoy chewing on the toothbrush especially when teething. Let your baby get used to the feeling of the toothbrush but parents should always have a turn brushing too. We always tell families, to assist their children with brushing until they are old enough to tie their shoelaces or cut their food with a fork and knife, since these tasks are a measure of their manual dexterity.
Use the right toothpaste when cleaning your baby’s teeth
You can use water or no fluoride toothpaste when your infant gets teeth. No fluoride toothpaste doesn’t clean the teeth any better than water, but it does introduce flavours to your child, and this might make brushing easier for you.
Assuming there are no concerns with your child’s teeth, the Canadian Dental Association (CDA) and the Canadian Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (CAPD) recommend switching to a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste around 2.5 years of age, which coincides with the eruption of the second primary molars.
It’s ok if your baby cries when brushing their teeth
Many parents report that they feel like they’re upsetting their child too much when they brush their teeth. Crying is age-appropriate behavior. This is how infants and toddlers communicate. Cleaning their teeth is part of their overall health and well-being. It’s important to teach them at a young age that this is part of the daily routine. It’s understandable that we sometimes forget, or that some brushings will be shorter than others but DO try to establish a routine.
Your baby’s first dental visit
According to the CDA and the CAPD, children should have their first dental visit by 12 months of age, or 6 months after getting their first tooth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had parents tell me they were advised to wait until their children started school to visit the dentist. Prevention is crucial so don’t delay this very important visit!
*Note – The first dental visit can be with the general dentist or a pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists have several years of extra training after dental school, much like the difference between a pediatrician and a family doctor.
Allow your baby to have self-soothing habits
Whether your newborn is nursing or bottle-feeding, sucking his/her thumb, or using a pacifier, these are all healthy behaviours. Babies are born with an instinct to suckle. Habits that soothe your baby, make the whole family happier, and hopefully, sleep better too! There is an appropriate age range to wean from these habits but in the early days, be open to what settles your baby.
Understanding your baby’s teething
The etiology of teething symptoms is thought to be a temporary influx of oral bacteria into the bloodstream as the baby teeth enter the mouth. Some babies experience no symptoms, while others may have a temporary fever, drooling, rosy cheeks, pain, or a loss of appetite. These can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications, chew toys (sometimes frozen ones), and plenty of bibs! Luckily the symptoms typically only last a few days, although it can be longer for some.
Spacing between your baby’s teeth
An ideal primary dentition has spaced incisors (front teeth) because the adult teeth that will eventually replace the permanent teeth are larger and need the extra space. For infants who have tight (non-spaced) incisors, parents should ideally floss and brush their teeth. This may sound like a lot of effort but keep in mind that if your baby is prone to, and develops cavities, they usually need sedation if they are to be treated.
All 20 baby teeth will fall out (eventually)
Children usually get all 20 teeth by 2.5 years of age. Typically, the top four and bottom four front teeth fall out between ages 6 and 8. The remaining 12 teeth usually stay in the mouth until age 10 to 12. Many people forget how long baby teeth last and undervalue their importance.
Baby teeth are important
Aside from looking great, baby teeth are important for chewing, speech, and proper tongue placement, and for guiding the position of the adult teeth. When baby teeth are lost prematurely the surrounding teeth may drift forward, making it difficult for their permanent successor teeth to find their proper position.
When cavities happen …
Parents tend to feel an enormous amount of guilt when their child develops a cavity. It’s not ideal but it’s a very common occurrence, even for parents with the best of intents. Find a “dental home” early so that if this does happen, you feel comfortable with your dental professional. We are here to help and will do everything we can to make it a positive experience for your family!
About the Author, Dr. Karen Stallaert, BSc, MSc, Dip (Ped), FRCDC
Dr. Stallaert has been a dentist since 2006 and a pediatric dentist since 2011. She works at her clinic in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood, Superkids Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics. She is also a staff pediatric dentist at the Hospital for Sick Children.