Pediatric DentistYour growing baby’s teeth need the same care and attention as their adult counterparts. Although baby teeth are temporary, they play an important role in laying the foundation for good future oral health by reserving space for the permanent teeth to come in. Baby teeth are also crucial in speech development and facial structure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 40 percent of babies get tooth cavities. In 2014, the USA Today newspaper reported that tooth decay among young children had reached “epidemic proportions.”

Baby teeth (aka primary teeth, milk teeth or temporary teeth) usually start to appear when an infant is about six months old. Most babies will have all 20 temporary teeth by the age of three years. Adult (permanent) teeth begin to show from around the age of six. Children usually have most of their adult teeth by the time they’re 13.

The process of looking after your growing baby’s teeth should start with cleaning your little one’s mouth before the teeth actually begin to appear. Wipe the gums after each feed with a damp piece of gauze wrapped around your finger. You can also buy soft thimble-shaped devices to remove food particles.

Once the baby teeth begin to come in, they need constant care to avoid cavities, which can lead to gum infections and impair the proper spacing of adult teeth.

Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts for looking after your baby’s teeth.

Dos for Your Growing Baby’s Teeth

Use cold objects on the gums before teeth have emerged. Gently applying a cold object (not frozen) to your baby’s gums can provide pain relief as the teething process begins. Use a chilled teething ring, cold spoon, or a cold, damp cloth.

Massage your baby’s gums. If your little one’s gums become sore during teething, gently massage them with a finger (after thoroughly washing your hands). You can use this method when you put your baby down to sleep. If they wake up during the night, a gum massage may help them get back to sleep. You’ll be able to tell which teeth are coming through and focus on those areas.

Start brushing your baby’s teeth. Once your baby has teeth, it’s time to introduce them to the toothbrush. Use a baby toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head that fits comfortably in your little one’s mouth while having a handle long enough for you to easily maneuver. Brush the teeth at least twice daily.

Opinion appears to be divided over when to use toothpaste (fluoride or otherwise) to clean a baby’s teeth. One school of thought is that it’s not necessary initially to use toothpaste – just wet the brush and clean the teeth after feeds. Ask an experienced pediatric dentist for advice about using toothpaste for your baby.

Maintain a bedtime routine. If your baby is having difficulty sleeping at night because of teething, try to maintain a regular routine to indicate it’s sleep time by ensuring a calm environment. You can try getting your little one ready for sleep by quietly singing while gently rocking them to soothe them during teething.

Start flossing. As soon as your baby’s teeth grow next to one another, use floss to clean the spaces in between.

Brush your baby’s teeth after certain medications. Some medicines contain sugar that can cause tooth decay.

Don'ts for Your Growing Baby’s Teeth

Don't give your baby ice cubes. You may be tempted to let your baby suck on a piece of ice, particularly to help soothe them during teething, but ice cubes are a choking hazard for infants, and the sharp edges can cut the mouth. Crunching on an ice cube can also wear down the enamel of primary teeth, causing tiny fractures that can lead to decay.

Don't use cold objects once your baby’s teeth have started to appear. While gently pressing something cold onto your baby’s gums is fine before their teeth have started to show, the practice should be discontinued when teeth begin to emerge, because it can damage them.

Avoid using frozen objects. Frozen objects, particularly teething rings, may bruise your baby's fragile gums. The extreme cold can also cause frostbite on the lips and gums. Give your baby a refrigerated teething ring instead.

Stay away from medications containing benzocaine without consulting a doctor. Soothing gels and creams for babies’ gums may contain benzocaine, which, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), should not be given to infants under two years old, without the go-ahead from a doctor.

Try not give your baby a lot of sugar. Giving your baby sugary foods or drinks too often puts their teeth at risk of decay. Never put sweet drinks in the baby bottle.

Don't give your baby a bottle as they go to sleep. Using a baby bottle as a pacifier can result in a condition known as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay.

AnaBella Family and Cosmetic Dentistry adds, "Your baby’s teeth should always be flushed with water or wiped down with a damp cloth after feeding, especially before they fall asleep. Allowing the milk or formula residue to sit on the gums can promote decay on the teeth breaking through. If the decay is left untreated it can eventually lead to infection and pain for your child."

Professional Help for Little Teeth with a Big Job

As we’ve seen, although your baby’s teeth are tiny, they have a big job to do. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that parents take their baby for their first dental visit soon after the first tooth appears.

This first dental appointment is crucial in setting your baby on the path to a lifetime of sound oral health. Look for a pediatric dental practice that provides services for babies in a caring and compassionate manner – someone you can trust to give your baby the best possible dental care.

Your baby’s first dental visit will also enable the pediatric dentist to provide you with the know-how to ensure your baby’s teeth grow healthily and advise you on how to get your baby through teething. An early dental check-up can also detect any potential concerns before they become serious issues.

A skilled pediatric dental specialist can become your healthcare partner in working towards optimizing your baby’s oral health while helping to nurture their physical and emotional growth.