How to look after baby teeth and gums
Nothing can melt your heart quite like a baby’s smile – especially when their little toothy grins start coming through. But cuteness aside, when teeth begin to make their grand entrance, it can be daunting for any parent to figure out how to look after baby teeth and gums.
When we think about how we brush our teeth as adults, it’s almost impossible to imagine a baby sitting still for a full two minutes while you brush up, down and all around, right?
Luckily, we have some simple tips to make looking after your baby’s teeth and gums a pain-free experience, and not just when it comes to brushing.
But first, have you ever wondered why humans get two sets of teeth in the first place?
THE IMPORTANCE OF BABY TEETH AND LOOKING AFTER THEM
Tiny teeth are mighty important for your little one’s long-term health.
Baby teeth might be temporary, but neglecting them can have some not so temporary effects. Those mini munchers play an important role in your child’s health and development. Here’s why baby teeth deserve lots of TLC …
- They allow your child to chew properly.
- They help your child speak and smile.
- They are ‘placeholders’ that help guide adult teeth into their correct positions.
- They help your baby’s mouth and jaw muscles develop correctly.
Taking care of baby teeth is also important to help avoid cavities. Did you know that nearly 1 in 4 children aged between 2 and 5 have cavities in their baby teeth?
Tooth decay can be painful and uncomfortable for children just like it is for adults. Cavities can affect your little one’s quality of life and lead to problems with eating, speaking, learning, playing and sleeping.
They can also increase the risk of more serious dental conditions that can follow them into adulthood. The good news? There are some easy steps you can take to keep your child’s no cavity club membership intact, and as a result look after their baby teeth and gums really well!
HOW TO LOOK AFTER BABY TEETH AND GUMS: OUR TOP FOUR TIPS
TIP 1: EMPLOY EARLY BIRD TACTICS
To keep a baby smile sparkling long into the future, it’s important to follow a good dental care routine as soon as possible. Good oral hygiene starts from birth.
From birth to six months, you can care for your little one’s oral health by gently wiping their gums with a clean, damp soft washcloth or gauze after feedings to remove milk or food particles.
Plus, always rinse your baby’s pacifier with water and don’t share feeding spoons. This will help avoid passing on cavity causing germs.
Once your child’s first tooth has erupted, brush their teeth twice a day with a small, baby toothbrush that has soft rounded bristles. Use a rice grain size amount of toothpaste until age three.
Speaking of toothpaste, you might be wondering whether fluoridated toothpaste is the best option for your child? While fluoride is often heralded as the king mineral for oral health, The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends children only use fluoride in toothpaste from 18 months old onward. Prior to this you can use an un-fluorinated baby toothpaste to get them comfortable with a regular morning and night practice. Your paediatric dentist will be able to provide you with ongoing guidance about your child’s individual fluoride needs as part of their routine dental check up.
When it comes to brushing techniques, use soft circular motions and spend time on the front and back of each tooth and along the gum line.
But what if your baby is a little mover and groover, and not so content staying still for more than a few moments? While those sweet little squirms are adorable and a totally normal part of their development, it can make brushing their teeth tricky.
Step one in side-stepping squirminess is to get your positioning right. Try sitting on a bed or the floor with your baby’s head resting securely on your lap. You can then cup your baby’s chin in your hands and gently lift their lips to clean their teeth.
If more than one person is available, try the “knee to knee” technique. This position involves two adults sitting and facing each other with knees touching. Your little one will lie on you both so that their head is resting on one person’s lap with their legs on the other person’s lap.
The person with your child’s head uses one hand to gently lift their lips so their teeth are exposed. Their other hand is used to gently brush their teeth.
The second adult focuses on comforting and distracting your little one. They can also gently hold your baby’s hands to prevent them from grabbing at the toothbrush.
Whatever position you choose, it’s important to ensure that bub is at no risk of falling, and their head is fully supported.
TIP 2 : KEEP IT CONSISTENT AND FUN
You gotta make it fun! While keeping baby teeth and gums healthy is important, it’s more important to establish a routine that your child loves and doesn’t dread. These things are a work in progress, and parents need not strive for perfection. Each and every day training your child to have a positive teeth cleaning routine will become easier and set them up for a lifetime of great oral health.
Luckily there are a few little tricks you can keep up your sleeve to help transform that ‘battle of the brushes’ into something they enjoy and stick to for years to come. It’s all about creating a positive experience from the earliest moment.
For less tantrums and more tranquillity give these tips a go:
- Try and brush their teeth at a time when your child is feeling happy and content
- Make brushing a family affair – if your baby watches you brush your teeth, they’ll likely want to get in on the action too.
- Have their favourite toy along for the experience, and as they start becoming more aware, you can even pretend to brush their toy’s teeth too!
- Play (or make up) a fun toothbrushing song while brushing or tell stories as you brush to make things fun or more soothing depending on your child’s needs.
All of these things can help create a positive association with toothbrushing time from a very early age and into the future. Not only is this amazing news for their long term oral health, it will help make your life a little easier too!
TIP 3: IT’S NEVER ‘TOOTH’ EARLY TO VISIT THE DENTIST
When should your child’s first dental check-up be? Ideally after the first tooth appears or before your child turns one. This allows them to get comfortable visiting the dentist and helps them learn that dental visits are nothing to fear – they are just a normal part of life. This small step can help reduce the risk of tooth decay and create the perfect recipe for good long term oral health.
Your child’s first dental visit should be friendly, relaxed and fun! It is usually brief and involves very little treatment. The idea is to get them comfortable with a dentist checking their teeth and gums. This visit also gives us the chance to ensure your baby’s mouth is developing correctly.
Doing this can get on top of any abnormalities early and potentially save you money and complications in the future.
We will also check for signs of decay or oral issues, remove any plaque, provide you with any advice you may need for caring for their teeth at home and give you guidance on how often your child should have check-ups, based on their individual needs.
We understand that some children (and carers) may feel anxious about jumping in the dental chair. Here’s some tips on how to make dentist trips more positive for your child:
- Take them with you to your dental appointments before their first visit. This can help your child to become familiar with the environment, it can also be beneficial for them to get to know their dentist.
- Visit a dentist that specialises in caring for children (a paediatric dentist) – these are qualified dentists who have also completed specialist training in children’s oral health. The team at At Macarthur Paediatric Dentistry is highly trained in this area.
- Bring along a special toy or item that gives them comfort to help ease any anxieties.
- Sit in the dentist’s chair with your child on your lap. This can help your child feel more relaxed and help them sit still during the check-up.
- Check in with your own emotions about visiting the dentist. We know from research that parents with dental fears and anxiety can pass these on to their children from a very young age. The calmer and more positive you are about the visit, the more optimistic and open your child will generally be.
TIP 4: CHOOSE NUTRITIOUS FOODS AND DRINKS
Just like with adults, every child is at risk of tooth decay. In fact, the hard outer layer of their teeth, known as enamel, is far thinner and softer on baby teeth putting them at an even greater risk of decay than their carers.The good news? Tooth decay is largely preventable!
When it comes to cavities in your child’s primary teeth, sugars, acids and food remnants are some of the key villains. Fortunately, the Australian Dental Association has compiled a list of tooth-healthy tips to support your child in avoiding the main risk factors for baby cavities.
- Avoid putting your baby to sleep with a bottle of milk, flavoured milk, fruit juice, cordial and the like. Bacteria LOVE feeding on the sugars in these drinks and form a sticky coating of plaque and acids that eat into tooth enamel.
- Delay the introduction of added sugars and acids.
- Teach your little one to drink from an open cup by around 12 months of age.
- Encourage your little one to drink water. If they do consume juice, try to give it at mealtimes only. Sipping juice consistently throughout the day can lead to severe tooth decay.
- Encourage a balanced wholefood diet and limit sugary or acidic snacks to treats not everyday foods
- Do some research – there are plenty of reputable articles to help answer your questions such as this article here: How much sugar per day is ok for kids?
Knowing how to look after baby teeth and gums can sometimes feel overwhelming. But TLC for little teeth is a gift that keeps giving. By using these tips you are setting your child up for a lifetime of amazing oral health.
If you have any questions about your little one’s teeth, please contact us – our friendly team is always happy to help.
If your child is overdue for their next appointment give us a call on (02) 9188-0202 or book online here.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics and to help begin the conversation with your children’s dentist. It should not be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your health care professional prior to incorporating this as part of your child’s diet or health regimen.