Did you know that even your baby’s gummy grin is called milk teeth? When I learned this I was so confused, there are no teeth! Why call it ‘milk teeth?’ Either way, it is never too early to start getting your baby used to dental and oral hygiene. Pediatric dentists and pediatricians recommend wiping your baby’s mouth out after eating with a soft cloth to keep his or her gums healthy.
Babies typically start teething around 4 months, sticking everything they can get into their mouths for a good gnaw. The counter pressure of the object pressing on the gums can provide great relief from the pain and discomfort of teething.
Other symptoms of teething include excessive drooling, sometimes a rash because of the increased drooling, refusing food, decreased sleeping, irritability, swollen tender gums, and sometimes a low fever.
I hate to say it but your baby has to go through teething for every tooth that comes in, some are worse than others. If your baby is uncomfortable Tylenol can relieve pain as can Advil (only for babies over 6 months). Sometimes the best remedy is a nice long cuddle with mama. Like everything else teething is an individual process, some children seem to have no indications of teething and other children suffer.
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Typically, the first tooth erupts at around 6 months of age- though this can vary widely. Usually, the first teeth are the central incisors on the lower gums, but again this can have variation. Once the first tooth erupts it’s time to get serious about dental hygiene. You’ll need a baby tooth brush (look for one that has a small head, soft bristles, and a large handle). Before your baby is 1 year old you can just use water to cleanse the teeth, but after age 1 choose a small (a little smaller than a pea) amount of non-fluorinated toothbrush. Gently brush all over your baby’s mouth including gums and teeth. I like to sing a song while I do this. Wait until your child is at least age 2 before introducing fluorinated toothpaste. Parents should help their child with brushing until he or she is able to hold the toothbrush independently. However you child will need help and supervision when cleaning his or her teeth until age 7 or so.
While you are helping your child brush his or her teeth keep an eye on his or her dental health. Look for signs of tooth decay. Some signs of tooth decay can include discoloration (white or dark spots) on the surface of your baby’s teeth or pitting (having little indentations in them).
This time is a great time to teach your child how to floss and pay attention to his or her dental health. Parents are instrumental in establishing good dental habits. This includes brushing and flossing at least 2 times a day (ideally after every mealtime). It is much easier to start with good habits as a child than it is to form them as an adult.
Pediatric dentists recommend an appointment to at least count your babies teeth and get him or her used to the dentist around age 1. This way he or she will have positive associations with the dentist and hopefully not be terrified of the dentist the way so many adults are. Your pediatric dentist can give you advice about you specific situation whether it be about thumb sucking, early tooth decay, or general dental care. Of course if your child sustains dental trauma, pain, malformations, etc. a dental visit should be scheduled as soon as possible. He or she should get her teeth professionally cleaned every 6 months.
To help prevent tooth decay your infant should only be given formula, breast-milk, or water. Babies should not be given juice or other sugary drinks. They can cause tooth decay. If your baby needs a bottle to go to sleep with, put water in it instead of milk, formula, or juice. If parents put milk or juice (or other beverage) in a bottle for a child to go down with, the liquid can settle in the mouth and feed bacteria that is naturally found in the mouth. This bacteria can create a sticky plaque and then cause tooth decay. This is termed baby bottle tooth decay. If you need to switch your baby from a milk bottle to a water bottle start by diluting it with progressively more water, then filling the bottle with only water. No one wants your baby to have to get a cavity filled.
Infants’ teeth are most vulnerable during the first 3 years and should be well cared for to help ensure a lifetime of dental health. It can save a lot of time, pain, and money.