BABY TALK: Cleaning baby's teeth

May 22, 2012 

Q: When should we start cleaning our baby's teeth?

A: Many pediatricians recommend that you start even before you see that first tooth. When you are bathing your baby you can wrap a soft wet cloth around your finger and gently rub your baby's gums. This will feel good to your baby as well as get him used to having his gums rubbed.

Babies start the teething process around 3 1/2 months. However, the actual appearance of teeth can take much longer. It isn't until the teeth actually start to emerge that there is concern about the bacteria that cause tooth decay.

I have seen parents lick pacifiers and put them in their baby's mouth. It is better to wash it with water. Once a baby has teeth the bacteria in another person's mouth can actually cause tooth decay in a baby's mouth.

The recommendations from the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry are that a baby is seen after the appearance of the first tooth.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a baby is seen by a dentist before the age of 1 year old or earlier if there is a family history of dental decay. If the mother suffered from dental problems or gum disease during her pregnancy the baby is at a higher risk for early dental disease.

Your baby's doctor can help you make the decision on when is the best time to see a dentist.

The sad news is that approximately 40 percent of children in this country develop tooth decay by the age of 5.

The good news is that there are more and more providers of dentistry that can help preserve the baby or child's early teeth. But no one is as important as the child's parents.

There are several factors that impact a baby's dental health. Those factors are diet, family history, fluoride in the water and regular cleaning of the teeth. If there is a family history of dental disease, a child should be seen as soon as the first teeth are popping through.

Foods are usually introduced around 6 months. Limiting sugary foods, juices, is important. Wiping the teeth with a soft cloth moistened with water that has fluoride will help the teeth. Some parents use a very soft brush designed for washing baby teeth.

If a baby goes to bed with a bottle or walks around with a bottle hanging out of his or her mouth, there is a danger of them developing bottle mouth syndrome. That causes the rotting of the front teeth. A cup with high sugar fluids that is constantly in a toddler's mouth can do the same thing.

Recently I saw a family where all of the children had silver crownson their front teeth. My heart went out to them but at the same time I had to wonder what their diet was like.

It is a regular news item about the obesity problem we are having in this country. It is starting with our children. Diets high in sugary foods lead to tooth decay and obesity.

Baby teeth are temporary but very important. They help with chewing, speech development, and jaw development. They are very important to your child's health. Losing a tooth to decay is much more preventable and of a greater health risk than losing a tooth from a fall.

So protect your child's teeth with diligence and you will be gazing at the most beautiful smile imaginable.

Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital's Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Family & Friends. Contact her at katie.powers@mmhhs.com.

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