Taking Care of your Baby’s Teeth

It’s always exciting when those tiny little white pearls begin to show. Some babies grow their first tooth quite early, while others take as long as 18 months; so if your baby’s teeth aren’t out yet, don’t worry, there is still time. None the less, it can never be too early to learn how to keep your baby’s teeth clean.

A lot of parents assume that since the milk teeth (also called primary teeth or baby teeth) are so small and will eventually fall off there is no need to clean them. This is a wrong assumption as milk teeth are just place holders in preparation for the second set of teeth to grow, the permanent teeth. If the milk teeth are not taken care of properly they could development cavities which could spread to the gum causing a gum infection like gingivitis (a bacterial gum infection which is associated with bleeding gums and is often painful while chewing and might discrete puss among other things. This could also affect the alignment of the teeth in the mouth and not just for the milk teeth but the permanent teeth as well).

Therefore, you should start taking care of your baby’s tooth as soon as the first one starts to grow. You can do this by taking a piece of cloth and dipping it in a bowl with warm salty water and using it to wipe the tooth. This should be done after every meal or at the very least before bed time in the evening. After the last wipe in the evening avoid giving your baby any sweat drinks such as juice or milk since the sugar in these drinks will settle on the teeth possibly causing teeth decay. If you must give your baby a drink before nap time you could probably do with milk but give him or her a glass of comfortably-warm water afterwards to help rinse out the mouth (make sure the water is at a good temperature to avoid burning your baby’s throat).

At first, your baby might not be too happy with the process of teeth cleaning and s/he may resist. It’s okay if you do not manage to clean the whole tooth the first few tries, but with time s/he should get used to it and allow you to do a more thorough job 

As more teeth come in you might want to switch from a wash cloth to a thimble/finger toothbrush. This is usually at around 18 months. To get your child used to the thimble/finger toothbrush you could give it to him/her to play with and chew on (while clean). However, it’s important to be present to avoid him/her from choking on it. You can also add a small amount of bicarbonate of soda (this can be purchased at the supermarket) and rinse it off with a wet cloth but we advise first talking to your child’s dentist or pediatrician before doing so.

At the age of 2, you can replace the bicarbonate of soda with non-fluoride infant toothpaste. Smear a pea size amount on the thimble/finger toothbrush and brush. You can introduce fluoride based toothpaste when your child is 3 years of age. It is also at this age that your child should have their first dental appointment. Most websites advise taking your child for their first appointment at the age of 1 but most dentist advise that if your baby’s teeth are beginning to appear by 18 months of age and they are being cared for properly with no signs of concern then the first dental appointment can be scheduled at age 3.

Once the molars (back teeth) come in, it is okay to switch form the thimble/finger toothbrush to an infant toothbrush. These should have:
1) A small head,
2) Soft bristles, and
3) A large handle.

At the age of 5, your child’s milk teeth should begin to fall off in preparation for the permanent teeth to grow. At this age it is still important to assist or supervise your child as s/he brushes their teeth to ensure that it is well done especially the final brush of the day before nap time. The need for supervision often ends at age 6 when your child should be able to efficiently brush, rinse and spit without being told to (but it is up to you as the parent to decide the best time to let your child self-supervise their teeth cleaning session).

To know if your child’s teeth might be developing cavity you should watch out for these signs, some may be harder to notice than others:
1) Grey, brown or black spots appearing on the teeth
2) Bad breath which often doesn’t go away after s/he brushes their teeth
3) Teeth sensitivity, this is often noticed when eating or drinking something hot, cold or even sweet. You might be able to notice this if your child no longer feels like taking his/her usual snacks.
4) Toothache
5) An unpleasant taste in the mouth. 

This might be harder to notice, as it mainly depends on your child telling you. However, you could always ask on a regular basis as they brush their teeth if s/he has noticed any changes in their teeth which they find troubling.

As always, if concerned about anything regarding your child’s tooth/teeth you should always call your pediatrician or child’s dentist.

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