As parents, we have an inherent responsibility to take the very best care we can of our little miracles. Although they work hard to make that a difficult task at times, the satisfaction that comes from knowing we are instilling good habits and doing the best we can for them health wise is deeply satisfying. Strong oral hygiene habits are no exception. Although our young ones rarely come equipped with teeth, their pearly whites show up quickly and stay with them for quite some time. Knowing how to get them started on the right foot and understanding how to continue the right practices throughout their infancy can make a huge difference in your child’s healthy development. With that in mind, the AllHeals team presents an age based guide to talking care of your children’s teeth from ages 0 to 2.
Your Baby’s First Teeth
Don’t let their size fool you, your baby’s first teeth (known as primary teeth) lay a solid foundation for their healthy permanent teeth. ¬Primary teeth form under the gum line in utero and begin to break the surface and show themselves, a process known as eruption anywhere between 3 to 12 months. This usually begins with the central incisors (the two middle teeth on the bottom) at 6 months and ends with the secondary molars following your child’s second birthday. There are 20 primary teeth in all which ‘hold spots’ for adult teeth. If these teeth happen to fall victim to poor oral habits, it can create an angled or crowded tooth line moving forward.
Keeping your babies teeth and mouth clean and well maintained from day one will go a long way in reducing the chances of health issues such as bacteria induced decay known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC). ECC has been shown to lead to unhealthy adult teeth that are susceptible to cavities. A proper diet of healthy foods and reduced levels of sugar and starch also goes hand in hand with strong cleaning habits. Unfortunately for the affectionate out there, smooches that could transfer bacteria from your own mouth into your child’s can also lead to ECC.
Ages 0-6 Months: Starting Right
Your baby doesn’t have to have any visible teeth before you beginning the practice of cleaning their mouths. Developing the habit of gently wiping their gums with a soft washcloth, damp gauze or finger brush after the day’s first meal and their last will ensure that their mouth is cleaned at the most important times of the day. This timing allows the task to easily be assimilated into your infant’s daily routine.
As you can imagine, teeth do not miraculously appear out of the blue. The process usually begins with a spot of discoloration on the gum, known as an eruption cyst or some slight bruising indicating the tooth is trying to break out. This process can be painful and uncomfortable for your baby. You may notice some increased drooling, rubbing of the gums, irritability and deteriorated sleeping habits at this time. As a tooth slowly breaks the surface it is important to clean the opening and tooth with a damp cloth or finger brush as well. These areas are prime real estate for harmful bacteria to wreak their havoc.
Ages 6 to 12 Months: Suddenly, Teeth!
Infants most commonly get their first tooth at approximately 6 months of age, although this is not always the case. In fact it is quite common for a baby to celebrate their first birthday tooth free. Parents, particularly those who are first timers may worry that their baby’s teeth are taking too long to come in relative to what they have read or even other babies. This should not be a cause for concern however as each child’s teething process goes at its own pace. If you are curious, it is often recommended that you make your baby’s first dental visit around 12 months. You can be sure to raise any concerns or questions you may have and they will be sure to shed light on your baby’s development.
Continue to wipe and clean your baby’s mouth and teeth until there are either two teeth or one tooth that is clearly visible. At this point and moving forward, it is recommended that toothbrushes be the main means of cleaning your baby’s teeth. There are quite a few infant toothbrushes and toothpastes available for sale at local grocery stores and pharmacies. Use the recommended amount of toothpaste and brush around the entire surface (front, back and sides) of each tooth gently.
As babies begin to eat a wider variety of foods, good cleaning becomes increasingly important. If two teeth are side by side you may need to floss the space between them as you do your own. Gently massaging the gums while you clean them around existing and emerging teeth is recommended to help babies with their pain. Consult with a dental professional regarding the use of pain relievers.
Ages 12 to 24 Months: Excellence as Habit
As your baby continues to grow and get more teeth, the daily habitual practices outlined above should become routine and expected. Continue to brush your child’s teeth carefully for them but as they develop better motor skills and comprehension encouraging them to help guide the toothbrush is highly recommended. Doing so with enthusiasm and a good attitude will positively enforce good oral hygiene and teach children how to brush their own teeth properly. Continue to floss the ever increasing number of spaces between teeth for your child.
Ages 12 to 18 months is when several infants get larger teeth such as their molars which are used for chewing. As these teeth are further back being sure to clean them completely becomes an area to focus on. Be sure to take the time to inspect your child’s teeth. Look for things like discolouration, white or dark spots and the like. These should be examined by a dental professional to ensure they are not developing cavities. If you have not yet taken your child for their first dental visit it is recommended that you do so by this point. If your infant is 15 months and still has no teeth, a visit to a dental office is also recommended.
Once again, the diagram earlier in this piece has general time frames for when teeth usually appear and even fall out. These are nothing but guidelines established based on averages and not necessarily a benchmark for your little angel. Strong oral hygiene habits begin at home and parents are the ones who play the most vital role in their success. Establish a routine that works well for everyone involved and remember that persistence, patience and positive reinforcement will go a long way in making this process enjoyable and productive.