Babies and Toddlers (0-36 months of age)
Tooth decay can be a chronic health concern for many children as it can lead to:
- pain and infection
- premature loss of baby teeth
Such issues can adversely affect your child’s development and well being.
Furthermore, the presence of bleeding gums and cavities in baby teeth increases the chances of these problems occurring in their adult teeth.
Good oral health habits are therefore essential as they help to avoid the issues listed above, and increase the opportunity for a healthy mouth right through to adulthood.
Parent Tips: Healthy Teeth for Babies
- Before the teeth erupt, clean the baby’s mouth and gums with a soft cloth or infant toothbrush at bath time. This helps ready the baby for the teeth cleaning to come.
- When the teeth erupt, clean the child’s teeth at least twice a day with a toothbrush designed for small children.
- Take the baby to see a dentist by the baby’s first birthday. The earlier the visit, the better. It is important to establish a dental home to ensure that the child’s oral health care is delivered in a comprehensive, ongoing, accessible, coordinated and family - centred way by the dentist.
- If the baby is placed to sleep with a bottle, use nothing but water. When a child is given a bottle containing sugary liquids such as milk, formula or fruit juice, the teeth are under attack by bacterial acid for extended periods. This can cause cavities in babies called “early childhood caries,” formerly known as baby bottle tooth decay.
- Breast - feeding has been shown to be beneficial for a baby’s health and development. However, if the child prefers to be breast - fed often or for long periods once a tooth appears and other foods/beverages have been introduced into her diet, she is at risk for severe tooth decay. Clean the baby's mouth with a wet washcloth after breast-feeding, and encourage a bottle with plain water during the night time.
- Never dip a pacifier in anything sweet; it can lead to serious tooth decay.
- Wean the infant from the bottle by one year of age
Fluoride For Babies
- Even though the baby teeth have not erupted, infant’s still need fluoride to help developing teeth grow strong. A dentist will determine the child’s fluoride needs during the initial consultation.
- Children older than six months may need a fluoride supplement if their drinking water does not contain the ideal amount of fluoride. Fluoride has been shown to reduce tooth decay by as much as 50 precent.
- A dentist will help determine whether the child needs a fluoride supplement and, if so, will prescribe the proper amount based upon the child’s age, fluoride levels in her primary source of drinking water, and other dietary sources of fluoride. Fluoride is conveniently available in fluoride drops or in combination with prescription vitamins
Pacifier or Thumb?
- Babies suck even when they are not hungry (a natural reflex called non-nutritive sucking) for pleasure, comfort and security. In fact, some babies begin to suck on their fingers or thumbs even before they are born.
- In the pacifier-versus-thumb debate, the organisations including the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry (AAPD) votes for pacifiers over thumbs to comfort new babies. A pacifier habit is easier to break at an earlier age. The earlier a sucking habit is stopped, the less chance the habit will lead to orthodontic problems.
- Sucking on a thumb, finger, or pacifier is normal for infants and young children; most children stop on their own. If a child does not stop by herself, the habit should be discouraged after age three.
- Thumb, finger and pacifier sucking all can affect the teeth essentially the same way. If a child repeatedly sucks on a finger, pacifier or other object over long periods of time, the upper front teeth may tip outward or not come in properly. Other changes in tooth position and jaw alignment also may occur.
- Some oral changes caused by sucking habits continue even after the habit stops. Prolonged sucking can create crooked teeth or bite problems. Early dental visits provide parents with information to help their children stop sucking habits before they affect the developing permanent dentition.
- A dentist can encourage the child to stop a sucking habit and discuss what happens to the teeth and mouth if the child does not stop. This advice, coupled with support from parents, helps many children quit. If this approach does not work, a dentist may recommend behaviour modification techniques or an appliance that serves as a reminder for children who want to stop their habits.
Parent Tips For Safe Pacifiers
- Never dip the pacifier into honey or anything sweet before giving it to a baby.
- Never attach a pacifier to the child’s crib or body with a string, ribbon or cord.
- A pacifier’s shield should be wider than the child’s mouth. Discontinue use if the child can fit the entire pacifier in his mouth.
- Inspect pacifiers frequently for signs of wear or deterioration; discard if the bulb has become sticky, swollen, or cracked.
- Never leave an infant unattended with a pacifier in her mouth, or let her sleep with a pacifier.
- Never substitute a bottle nipple for a pacifier
Parent Checklist - The First Dental Visit
Scheduling your child's appointment
- Schedule the first dental visit and establish a dental home by child’s first birthday.
- Choose a pediatric dental practice. Appreciate their special training.
- Select an appointment time when the child is usually alert, not tired.
- Provide a complete medical and dental history about the child.
- Consider visiting the office or its website before your child’s appointment to become familiar with the practice and to learn what to expect on the first visit.
Determining the Success of the dental visit
- The pediatric dental practice did not keep us waiting. (If there was a wait, I was satisfied with the staff’s explanation in regards to the delay).
- The pediatric dentist gently but thoroughly examined the child’s mouth. He/she observed oral and facial development and looked for signs of potential problems.
- The pediatric dentist informed the parent and/or caregiver about the child’s tooth development, the causes and prevention of oral diseases and appropriate diet and home dental care.
- The pediatric dentist and members of the dental team answered questions on a variety of topics, such as diet, teething, thumb sucking, pacifiers and fluoride.
- The dentist and support staff did everything possible to help the child fee comfortable during the visit.
Please note that some information has been adapted from the AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRIC DENTISTRY 2013 ‘Fast Facts’ factsheet