Keeping Baby’s Teeth & Gums Healthy

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I love going to the dentist.

That might sound strange to some people, but the fact is that I always leave Dr. John Dunlap’s office feeling like a winner. I haven’t had a dental emergency or cavity in years, and the hygienist who often sees me, Megan, says I bore her because there’s so little to do to my teeth.

I’m proud of my pearly whites, and I want Baby Bird to be proud of hers, too.

I thought I had some time to prepare her dental-care routine — she doesn’t have any teeth yet — but Megan recently told me that I could’ve started working on the kid’s gums months ago.

Had I committed another parenting fail? Maybe. But I chose to look at it as an opportunity to get educated.

Here’s what I’ve learned about how to care for a baby’s mouth.

When should you start baby’s oral-care routine?

Before she has teeth. Beginning early will help Little One get used to having her mouth cleaned, and that should should simplify the transition into brushing. Plus, you never know when a tooth will emerge, and regularly cleaning baby’s mouth could help ward off bacteria.

Establishing a routine

  • Brush twice a day. If your child doesn’t have teeth, wipe her gums with a soft, wet washcloth. Once teeth begin to emerge, switch to a toothbrush with a small head, such as an Oral-B Pro-Health Stages.
  • Use a little fluoride toothpaste. The American Dental Association says you should use a dot the size of a grain of rice.
American Dental Association toothpaste amount suggestions

Left: The amount of toothpaste you should give your baby before she’s able to rinse and spit it out. (Photo from American Dental Association)

If you think Little One gets enough fluoride from your drinking water, you could use something that’s fluoride-free like Tom’s of Maine. (Too much fluoride can lead to fluorosis, or white streaks on the teeth.)

  • Replace her toothbrush as soon as the bristles start to look worn, just as you would with your own brush.
  • Skip the floss. Initially, your baby’s teeth will be far enough apart that you can clean between them with a toothbrush (and odds are baby wouldn’t let you use floss anyway). Most dentists suggest that you start flossing once Little One’s teeth fit closely together.

First dentist visit

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Dental Association, and the
American Academy of Pediatrics recommend a visit by baby’s first birthday. If your child is like mine and doesn’t yet have teeth, it makes more sense to take Little One soon after her first tooth appears.

I’m taking Baby Bird to my appointment in February. By then, she’ll (hopefully) have teeth, and Megan might be able to do a quick check and get her used to having her mouth inspected.

Avoiding problems

Sweet foods like fruit, juice, and the ever-popular PB&J can lead to tooth decay if left on or between the teeth. You can limit problems by serving that stuff at breakfast or dinner, then brushing baby’s teeth immediately afterward.

Another thing: Don’t put Little One to bed with a bottle of milk or juice. Doing so can lead to baby bottle tooth decay. (A valid link hasn’t been established between breastfeeding and cavities.)

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How to Properly Care for Your Baby's Teeth and Gums Starting in Infancy
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