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Milk for Your Child's Mouth

Don't Overlook Your Baby's Teeth

Dental hygiene isn't just for people with teeth.

You can start your child on his way to a great smile for a lifetime by cleaning his mouth when he's an infant.

Begin by gently wiping his gums with a clean, wet washcloth or gauze after he has a feeding. Infants are very focused on their mouths, so he should enjoy this touching. As he starts to sprout teeth, the feeling of the wet washcloth on his itchy, irritated gums will be very soothing. Wiping his gums will help eliminate decay-causing bacteria and will help him get used to having his teeth brushed later on.

Once he has a tooth, between 6 and 12 months, you can introduce an infant toothbrush. Make sure it has soft, rounded bristles so it won't scratch his gums. Brushing with just water is fine, but if your dentist recommends toothpaste, use a very small amount, about the size of a pea. Babies usually enjoy the flavor of toothpaste and often swallow it, and ingestion of fluoride can cause problems over time.

Brush his teeth after every feeding, and again at bedtime. By now he should enjoy the feeling of having his gums massaged and his teeth cleaned!

Keeping your baby's teeth clean is more important than you may realize. Baby teeth have thinner enamel than adult teeth and are more vulnerable to the bacteria that cause decay. Decay in a baby's tooth is swift and destructive; it quickly penetrates the enamel, then the dentin, and then infects the nerve.

Baby teeth eventually fall out, so why should it matter if they are lost early? Most dentists believe that baby teeth should remain in the mouth as long as possible, to serve as placeholders for the adult tooth that will follow. When baby teeth are lost early, the surrounding teeth often tilt and move toward the empty space. This can cause the permanent teeth to come in crooked.

Infant Tooth Care

As soon as your child gets his first tooth, you should begin cleaning his teeth and gums after feedings with a moist gauze pad or washcloth.

Infant/Child Tooth Brushing

When your child is comfortable with a toothbrush, brush his teeth twice a day with a special, extra soft infant toothbrush. Use a small dab of toothpaste if your child likes it and if you're sure he won't swallow it. Otherwise it's fine to brush without toothpaste. It's a good idea to keep some disclosing tablets on hand. The dye in these tablets will stain remaining plaque a bright red, making it easy to see and thus easy to remove.

Infant/Child Tooth Flossing

Gently floss your child's teeth each day, and pay particular attention to areas where the teeth are close together. Regularly help your child brush and floss until he's 7 to 10 years old and able to effectively keep the plaque off his teeth by himself. After that, check his efforts occasionally.

Infant/Child Milk Bottle Decay

The most serious dental problem for young children is called "bottle-mouth syndrome." This is tooth decay caused by the constant presence of sugars from milk, formula, or fruit juice in a child's mouth. It happens when a child takes a bottle to bed, or has a bottle for extended periods during the day. Use pacifiers or bottles of water at these times to prevent this severe decay of baby teeth, and always clean your child's teeth and gums immediately after each feeding.

Infant/Child Learning


Children learn best by imitation, so let them watch you brush and floss your teeth. Regular praise of their homecare efforts, together with a positive example from you, will get your child started down the path of excellent oral hygiene.

What is fluorosis and how did my child get it? Is a pacifier safer for my child's teeth than thumb sucking?

Fluorosis shows up as multiple snow-white specks or a brownish stain on permanent teeth. Your child may have ingested too much fluoride during the years when his teeth were forming. The excess can come from swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste (kids often like the way it tastes), drinking canned or bottled drinks that contain fluoridated water, and taking too many of the fluoride drops or tablets prescribed for infants.

Your water supply also may have contained high levels of fluoride, which added to the problem. As a precaution, have your water supply checked. To find out about at-home testing of your tap water, call 1-800-445-3386, or go to www.omniiproducts.com. Fluoride test kits from this vendor cost $16, including postage.

Is a pacifier safer for my child's teeth than thumb sucking?

Both habits will often have an effect on the position of the front teeth. Pacifiers can actually have a greater effect than the thumb because it is a pliable object that will deform upon pressure and try to return to its natural shape. As a result, it's actually exerting an active force against the teeth so that distortion of the normal tooth position will often be greater than with a thumb habit. While there are some controversies surrounding the advisability of taking a pacifier away from a child, from a purely dental standpoint, it is clearly the appropriate thing to do.

Negotiating with the child is not an effective way to bring the habit to a close. The most successful way to end the habit is by a unilateral parental decision not to make the pacifier available. This might take the form of simply "making it disappear" or informing (not discussing with) the child that the pacifier is going away.

My child has a toothache. What can I do before I get to the dentist?

Young children who complain of a toothache in a baby tooth often have a foreign object (such as a particle of food) lodged between the teeth. Even abscessed teeth are rarely cause for pain in baby teeth. The first thing to do is to have the child identify the exact location of the pain by having her touch the tooth that is hurting with a single finger. This will focus your attention on the offending area. Next, see if flossing between the teeth in the area will dislodge any debris. Often this will provide immediate relief. If not, basic pain medications, such as Tylenol, ibuprofen or other common children's pain relievers will be helpful. Ultimately, these situations are best evaluated and treated by your dentist.

The Sugar Habit May Be Developing along with Your Child's First Tooth

Plagued with a sweet tooth? If you are, it's likely that this habit was formed long before you could walk into the kitchen to grab a soda or a candy bar.

The Academy of General Dentistry reports that a strong correlation has been established between sweetened drinks consumed during infancy and high sugar consumption in later years. Why? Because at the age a baby's first tooth erupts, the types of foods that are introduced can influence eating habits for a lifetime. In other words, if a baby's first "real" foods are pieces of dry, sweetened cereal, raisins, sweet fruit juice or worse yet, fruit "drinks" that are as little as 7 percent juice, a high-sugar habit may follow him into adulthood.

"Sugar is known to cause cavities throughout a lifetime, and the earlier an infant gets used to sugar, the easier it is to get hooked on high-sugar snacks as an adult," says Heidi Hausauer, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., a spokesperson for the AGD. "The eating habits of adults are formed at weaning, so it's important for the baby to develop good eating habits that will affect dental health."

Bottle syndrome, or baby bottle tooth decay, is an all-too-frequent consequence when teeth are continually exposed to sugary fluids. Sugar feeds bacteria in the mouth, and in response, an acid is produced that decays the teeth. Even beverages labeled "100% juice" can have this effect, as they contain high levels of fructose, the form of sugar naturally found in fruit. Primary teeth (baby teeth) are much more susceptible to these acid attacks, as their protective outer enamel layer is thinner and more easily penetrated by the acid. To avoid bottle syndrome, parents are advised to:

  • Limit beverages other than water to mealtimes only.
  • Keep juice consumption down to 10 percent of your child's total diet (as recommended by the AGD).
  • Never put your child to bed with a bottle containing anything but water.
  • Don't flavor your child's pacifier by dipping it in honey or any other sweet substance.
  • Brush your child's teeth after giving him any liquid medicine; many contain high amounts of sugar.

So in a nutshell, to maximize your child's nutrition and dental health, and to encourage lifelong healthy eating habits, it's important that you minimize his exposure to sweets of all kinds while he's an infant.

Sources - The Academy of General Dentistry & The American Dental Association

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