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First smile, first giggle, first word. Milestones mark a child’s development, causing parents to gush with pride. However, one milestone that often appears too late is the first dental checkup. Because baby teeth affect a child’s health through everyday functions, from chewing to speaking, Dr. Timothy Bakelaar of Bartlett Pediatric Dentistry recommends a trip to the dentist when that first tooth erupts, or at the very latest by baby’s first birthday. This visit not only establishes your dental home, but serves to encourage the best practices in caring for baby’s first set of teeth.
Brush That Tooth
While Bakelaar agrees that brushing a single baby tooth may seem difficult, the importance of establishing a twice daily brushing routine is paramount to dental health. Baby teeth not only affect speech and chewing patterns, they also establish pathways permanent teeth use. He recommends gently wiping the tooth and inside mouth surfaces with a cool, wet washcloth to remove food debris.
As more primary teeth erupt, gradually switch to a soft bristled, infant-sized toothbrush moistened with warm water. Introduce small amounts of infant toothpaste as baby becomes accustomed to the new routine. However, speak to your dentist before introducing fluoridated toothpaste, as each child’s fluoride needs vary.
Pacifiers, Thumbs, and Bucked-Teeth
Most parents have heard the warning that pacifiers and thumb sucking cause ‘bucked’ teeth. Unfortunately, Bakelaar says there is some truth to this. These habits can alter the position of teeth with prolonged or continual use, yet occasional pacifier use or finger sucking usually poses no threat. However, Bakelaar tells parents not to worry. “There’s always a time and place for weaning. We’ll figure out a good time.” Your dentist will also have several tricks to share once that time comes.
The Dark Side of Bottles
We’ve all been there. A cranky baby fights bedtime, so we soothe her to sleep with a milk or formula-filled bottle. Before long, a habit forms as she expects the sweet treat each night. The problem, Bakelaar says, is baby bottle decay. As children fall asleep, mouth-cleaning saliva production slows, allowing milk sugars (or sugars from any other drink) to collect around teeth, feeding cavity-causing bacteria. The better choice is a water-filled bottle or sippy cup, these still offer the soothing action of sucking that will ease baby to sleep, but without the sugar. Consider avoiding this practice altogether. Remember, once baby gets attached to something, you’ve got a new challenge on your hands: Retiring the beloved object.
Create a Good Habit
While pacifiers and bottles can lead to trouble, one good habit worth establishing is twice yearly checkups and cleaning, because tooth decay, which causes cavities, remains one of the most common diseases of childhood.
Catching tooth decay early, fine tuning calcium-rich diets, and building your child’s trust in her dentist during these visits are just as important as proper brushing. So establish a dental home with that first tooth milestone, and let your dentist guide you toward a worry-free smile.
Is Your Kid Cavity-free?
- More than 25 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds have one or more cavities
- Half of teens ages 12 to 15 have one or more cavities
- Tooth decay affects two-thirds of 16- to 19-year-olds