From the moment parents bring their newborn home, they can begin to fight the most common chronic childhood disease: tooth decay and cavities. Dental care begins even before a baby’s first tooth arrives, when they are still exclusively breast- or bottle-fed. After each feeding, parents should gently wipe the baby’s gums with a damp, clean washcloth to get rid of harmful bacteria.
Tooth-brushing should begin as soon as the baby’s first tooth emerges, which on average happens around 6 months old. As soon as the baby has two teeth next to each other, parents should floss between those teeth.
Until a child is 2 years old, parents can use just a soft toothbrush and water. If parents wish, they can use a pea-sized smear of fluoride toothpaste, though medical organizations such as the American Pediatrics Association say this is not necessary in most cases. Teeth should be brushed at least two times a day, generally after breakfast and before bed.
Children should make their first visit to the dentist soon after their first tooth comes in and certainly by the time they turn 1, according to the American Dental Association’s recommendations. Pediatric dentists receive specialized training in treating children’s particular dental health needs. Early visits can also help children feel comfortable in the dentist’s office and help reduce fear of dental visits later in childhood.
At the first well baby checkup, parents can hold the baby on their lap while the dentist examines the infant’s teeth and checks for any tooth decay or other problems. The dentist might also give recommendations on how to care for the baby’s teeth.
In addition to tooth-brushing and dental visits, new parents can establish good eating and diet habits to protect their children’s dental health
- Do not put a child to bed with a bottle. If children fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth, it exposes their teeth to harmful sugars for an extended period of time.
- Make sure that your home’s water supply is fluoridated. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay. Most cities and counties add fluoride to their water systems, and the fluoride content of well water can be tested.
- Give young children healthy snacks, such as fruit. Avoid sweet foods, including cookies and candy, and sticky foods, such as raisins and gummies. Snack foods like chips and crackers can also have a lot sugar. Limit eating these foods only to mealtime.