When does good dental hygiene need to start? It might surprise you, but your baby’s teeth have been forming since they were in the womb, and good nutrition during pregnancy helps to give a good foundation to strong, healthy teeth. Once the first tooth breaks through the gums, you need to start taking good care of your little one’s teeth. Read on for more about your child’s teeth, from infancy up to when they can brush by themselves.
Although your baby has no visible teeth at birth, they already exist below the gumline. At about the sixth week of pregnancy your child’s primary teeth begin forming, so it is never to early to start thinking about helping to build a great oral foundation. By the third or fourth month of pregnancy both the inner dentin layer and the hard outer enamel layer have formed, and these developing teeth need the right nutrients to form properly. Whatever vitamins and minerals you receive through your diet will be passed on to your baby, so make sure you are providing them with all of the building blocks they need for healthy teeth! Make sure to include the following in your diet:
- Calcium: This mineral is the main component of teeth, and if you are not supplying this through your diet, your body will actually pull it from your own bones to supply it to your baby. The mother can become calcium deficient through this, so make sure to include plenty of calcium in your diet! Leafy, dark greens, meat, and milk are all great sources of calcium.
- Phosphorus: This mineral also helps with tooth hardness, and is found in many foods and prenatal supplements.
- Vitamin D: If you want your body to be able to absorb both calcium and phosphorus, you need vitamin D. Few foods contain it, so try to include oily fish like salmon and tuna in your diet. You can also get vitamin D through sun exposure.
- Protein: Proteins also play a part in helping form healthy tooth enamel, and including plenty of protein in your diet is crucial. Protein is found in many foods, and meat and dairy are especially rich in protein.
Incorporating the right foods into your pregnancy diet ensures that your baby’s teeth will form properly. Talk to your doctor about the best foods to eat and the best pregnancy supplements to take.
Before the First Tooth
Even before your baby’s first tooth erupts, you can still start planning for good dental care. When your baby has just gums, you can gently rub a clean, wet washcloth over their gums at bath time to stimulate the gums and get your child used to an oral care routine. When the first teeth erupt, usually the lower front ones, your baby will be used to this routine and it will not come as a surprise to new, tender teeth and gums.
Finally, a Tooth!
When you see that first pearly white poking through, it is time to graduate to a toothbrush. Choose a toothbrush that has soft bristles and a small head, so it is an appropriate size for your baby’s mouth. At first, you do not need to use much toothpaste at all, and can stick to a grain of rice sized dab. Brushing morning and night, even if it is just a few teeth, will ensure that your baby doesn’t develop decay. Your baby may not be eating many foods yet, but you want to be sure to get them started off with a good diet. Sticky foods like taffy, gum, gummies, and even raisins are not good for little teeth as they can stick to the tooth enamel and eventually wear it away. If your child eats healthy from the start you will never have to break a junk food habit when they are older. From the time that first tooth enters the scene, until they are about 3 years old, dental care will mostly fall on the parents. Make sure to brush your child’s teeth thoroughly to get off all of the sticky plaque that leads to cavities. Many children have large spaces between their teeth, but you should floss any teeth that touch each other to get all food particles out. Even if your child is resistant to brushing at first, if you make it a regular part of your routine they will get used to it. These first years are crucial to keeping the primary teeth clean and establishing good habits.
First Dentist Visit
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that you take your baby to the dentist by age one, or within six months of their first tooth erupting—and teeth usually begin to poke through around six months. Many parents fail to take their children to the dentist until they are two or older, because they think their child is too young, or because they don’t have many teeth. This first visit can be very important, and will start your child’s dentist office experience. The AAPD stresses that it is important to keep the primary teeth for as long as possible, until they are lost naturally. The primary teeth help children chew properly and ensure good nutrition, and are involved in speech development. They also serve as placeholders for the permanent, adult teeth that will eventually grow in. The primary teeth are very important, and should be cared for just as diligently as the permanent teeth. Your dentist can give you tips on how to best care for your child’s oral health, and can spot any potential problems. This will also be a time to get a thorough cleaning, which should be repeated at least annually. Make this first dentist visit a pleasant one, and your child will enjoy coming back year after year and improve their dental health.
3 to 6 Years
As your child grows up, they are more able to do things themselves, brushing included. Get your child excited about brushing their own teeth, and make sure to give them plenty of supervision. You want to make sure they are brushing all of their tooth surfaces, using an appropriate amount of toothpaste (not too much!), and brushing morning and evening. Brushing is a skill that gets better with practice, so let them do as much as they are able or willing to do. You should also get your child used to flossing their teeth, and you can buy plastic flossing tools that can help make this job easier. If your child is sucking their thumb or fingers, work to stop this habit now, before it causes problems in the mouth and jaw. Continue to bring your child to the dentist regularly, and inquire if fluoride treatments are necessary. You should also continue to provide your child with healthy, nutritious food, and limit the cavity causing sweets.
6 Years and Beyond
By 6 years old, most children are perfectly able to brush and floss their own teeth and do a good job. You should continue to remind your kids about the importance of brushing, and if you encounter resistance try these ideas:
- Buy a Fun Toothbrush: Kids will love brushing when they get to choose a great color, character, or something that lights up!
- Toothpaste: Some kids don’t like mint, and others are crazy about bubblegum. Choose something that your child likes (but don’t let them have more than a pea-sized amount!).
- Use Music: Brushing well means brushing for at least 2 minutes. Make this time easier to keep track of, and more fun, by using music to time your brushing.
- Set a Good Example: Your kids won’t want to brush if they never see you doing it. Make sure you set a good example for proper oral hygiene.
As your children get older, you may need to continually remind them of the importance of brushing and flossing. Teens get easily distracted, and are interested in things besides brushing. Keep them on track, and they will reap a lifetime of good dental health. During these years your child will lose all of their primary teeth and their permanent teeth will grow in. These are the teeth that they will have for the rest of their lives, so it is important to take really good care of them. Remember to take your children to their regular dental check-ups so that your dentist can regularly look at their teeth, mouth, and jaw. The teen years are when many children need orthodontia, and your dentist will be able to advise you if your kiddo is a good candidate for braces.
Good oral health is so important, and it starts while your baby is still in the womb. Start your child off right with healthy foods and supplements that give them the vitamins and minerals they need to form strong teeth. Continue your commitment to good dental care as their first teeth grow in, and keep reminding them as they grow that proper brushing and flossing will keep their teeth beautiful. If you need a great dentist in the Towson area, Kim Dentistry is here to ensure that your child’s teeth are coming in correctly and are free from cavities and other problems. Call us today to schedule an appointment!