The first year of your baby’s dental journey can be both exciting and worrisome if you don’t know what to expect. For many parents, especially new, it’s not uncommon to overlook the importance of tending to your infant’s oral health from the very beginning since they usually don’t start to get teeth until they’re about six months old!
When Should Infant Oral Care Start?
The short answer to this question is – right away. Even though infants are only consuming liquid foods and don’t have teeth that can begin collecting plaque and other bacteria, their mouths can quickly become a breeding ground for all kinds of baddies if not properly taken care of.
Similar to adults, if bacteria is allowed to proliferate in an infant’s mouth, it can lead to problems that ultimately affect the health of their baby teeth. Also, an infant’s immune system is not yet strong enough to fight off illnesses that can be caused by poor dental hygiene.
When Should Your Baby See the Dentist?
Even though there’s almost never a need to schedule an appointment with a pediatric dentist as soon as your baby is born, it’s recommended that they go by the time they’re 6 months of age. During the first 6 months, there are a lot of changes going on in your baby’s mouth, particularly, the development and eruption of baby teeth which usually happens during this time.
A quick visit to your baby’s primary care physician or the dentist is a great way to make sure everything is on track with their oral health. During the checkup, they will do a thorough examination to see how your baby’s teeth are coming in and whether or not they’re at risk for early childhood caries (ECC).
Early Childhood Caries (ECC)
Contrary to popular belief, babies are even more at risk for getting cavities than teens and adults with full sets of permanent teeth. In fact, ECC is so prevalent that the CDC has ranked it as the number one disease affecting children in the United States with more than 40% having cavities by the time they reach kindergarten.
This happens when baby teeth are continuously exposed to foods and liquids that are high in sugar which serve to break down the enamel and form cavities. Diet and good oral hygiene habits are a great way to ensure your baby doesn’t experience ECC, but it’s also good to visit a dentist experienced with pediatric dentistry near you so they can conduct a more thorough examination.
What You Can Expect Along The Way
The first 12 months of your baby’s life are going to be full of exciting moments and even a few unexpected ones if you’re a first-time parent. The purpose of this section is to help clue you in on some of the normal dental changes you can expect as your baby starts growing into their first set of pearly white chompers.
When your infant’s baby teeth start to come in, you’ll notice that all they want to do is chew on pretty much everything. This completely normal habit happens when emerging teeth begin to apply pressure on the gums as they work their way to the surface.
As you can imagine, this creates a sense of discomfort in your baby’s mouth which can oftentimes be alleviated by chewing on something. Further on down the page, we cover some of the most common symptoms of teething – besides all of the chewing!
To help your baby through this painful time, you can help massage their gums for them (much like you would when cleaning their mouth), or even try giving them a chilled teething ring.
Sucking on a thumb or pacifier is one of the most iconic actions that are associated with infants. Much like teething, sucking is a completely natural reflex that nearly all babies experience since it’s what they were doing in the womb!
This natural reflex doesn’t just help them get the nutrients they need when it’s feeding time, but it also helps to relax and keep them calm in stressful situations. Sucking is a perfectly safe and helpful habit for babies, usually going away around the age of 3 or 4. It’s only if the habit continues after this that dental problems can start to occur.
How to Clean Your Infant’s Mouth
The idea of cleaning your infant’s mouth may be a little scary at first, but it’s an important step that can lay the foundation for a healthy dental routine later on in life. Below, we’ve outlined our pediatric dentistry cleaning process so you can become a pro at home.
To start, we recommend having your infant in a comfortable position, such as your lap, so that they feel more relaxed. Be sure the room has ample lighting and keep them close so you can easily see into their mouth.
Next, you’ll want to use a clean washcloth or a soft gauze pad and get it damp. By making it wet, you greatly reduce the friction they feel along their gums, making it easier to thoroughly clean the entire mouth. By that same token, you don’t want it to be too wet or else excess water can begin dripping to the back of their mouth.
With your cloth or gauze pad wrapped around a single finger, gently clean your baby’s gums from top to bottom, making sure you don’t miss any areas. It’s a good idea to do this at least once or twice a day so that no food gets left in their mouth overnight. This is also a great time to give their tongue a few wipes, helping to scrub away any lingering bacteria.
Once your baby’s first teeth begin coming in, you can upgrade to a soft, infant-sized toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste that’s safe for babies. Because toothpaste can be fairly overwhelming at such a young age, we recommend only using a very small amount.
The Kinds of Oral Changes You Can Expect As Your Child Ages
Let’s face it, being a parent can be downright scary sometimes. In addition to everything else you have to keep an eye on, from infancy to young adulthood, there are numerous oral changes that will take place. Even though you went through the same experiences when you were younger, as a parent, it’s only natural to be a little worried.
To help you navigate this tricky time in your child’s life, we’ve compiled a list of the most common oral changes that will take place over the years so you can easily determine whether something is completely normal or requires a visit to your local pediatric dentist.
During the first few months of your baby’s life, you’re not going to have much to worry about dental-wise aside from the daily cleaning of their gums and tongue to make sure no nasty bacteria starts causing problems. Enjoy these cute, gummy times while they last because, once the teething stage starts, it won’t be long before their gums have pearly whites popping up.
When Does Teething Start?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell when a baby will start teething since it’s different for everyone based on a number of factors. However, despite the absence of an exact timeframe, the signs are pretty common and easy to spot when you know what to look for. As your baby’s first teeth start coming in, the mild discomfort they experience is usually enough to spur them into the teething stage.
How Do You Know Teething Has Started?
The most common sign that your baby has begun teething is an unusual amount of fussiness due to the discomfort that comes with new teeth emerging. Other common symptoms include trouble sleeping (growing teeth are usually more active at night), excessive drooling, a change in appetite, swollen gums, and even a low-grade fever in some cases. Though these symptoms can be otherwise alarming if you don’t know what’s going on, they’re perfectly normal.
How Long Does Teething Last?
Just like there’s no way to tell when your baby will start the teething process, there’s no way to tell how long it’s going to last. Even though most babies won’t have their first full set of teeth until they’re two, the good news is, you won’t be dealing with teething symptoms for the first 24 months of your baby’s life! Symptoms only tend to appear when teeth are about to break the surface and will subside between each occurrence.
You’ll quickly come to understand why it’s called the teething stage when your baby starts trying to chew on everything they can get their hands on. The reason for all of the chewing is because counterpressure is believed to help massage and relieve the pain they’re experiencing.
Losing Baby Teeth
As a parent, one of the most exciting times to be a part of is when your child starts to lose their baby teeth in order to make room for a set of permanent teeth. During this stage, even though the timeline becomes harder to predict, we’ve provided some general time frames to help you gauge where your child is at.
When Do Baby Teeth Start Falling Out?
Once your baby has their full set of 20 teeth (usually happening by age 3), it’s going to be smooth sailing for the next few years until they hit about 6 or 7. Generally, baby teeth don’t start falling out until their adult counterparts have formed underneath and begin pushing their way to the surface. Once this happens, they tend to follow the “first in, first out” rule, meaning your baby will lose teeth in the order they arrived.
Handling Loose Teeth
When your child experiences their first loose tooth, it can either be an exciting or scary experience for them. Because this is something totally new, it’s only natural for them to explore a bit by pushing it around with their tongue or wiggling it with their fingers, both of which are completely normal and actually help the process.
However, it’s important that you tell your child not to yank them loose before they’re ready because the adult tooth underneath may not have erupted yet which can leave an open space that’s prone to infection. It’s usually best to let the teeth fall out on their own, but if your child has a few stubborn ones, it never hurts to take them to a dentist that has experience with kids
What to Expect When Permanent Teeth Come In
When the new teeth start coming in, you’ll notice that they’re bigger and different looking than baby teeth, which is also completely normal. During this time, your child may also complain about soreness near the back of their mouth, which is a good sign that their permanent molars are coming in. Because they’re getting their permanent teeth, good dental hygiene habits are more important than ever.
Getting All of Their Adult Teeth
The process of losing baby teeth and growing a full set of permanent teeth can take several years. In addition to losing their 20 baby teeth, your child will also be growing 12 new teeth that they never had before.
How Long Do Adult Teeth Take?
Because each child is different, there’s no way to tell how long it will take for all of their adult teeth to come in. To give you a better idea of where your child should be, we’ve provided some general timelines for reference.
Between ages 6 and 9, you can typically expect the lower and upper central incisors, lateral incisors, and even their first set of molars.
Between ages 10 to 13, you can typically expect first and second premolars as well as the canine teeth along the top and bottom.
The last teeth to emerge in your child’s mouth are known as the wisdom teeth (third molars) and usually appear between the ages of 17 and 21.
Monitoring The Progress
During this time, it’s important that you pay close attention to the teeth that are coming in to make sure they’re in good health and without any abnormalities. Since these teeth are much larger than baby teeth, it’s less common to see perfectly straight teeth and more common to see crowding. If your child is taking an unusual amount of time to get their permanent teeth, it may be completely normal, but a quick visit can help clear up any worries.
Kids can need braces for a number of different reasons including crooked teeth, overcrowding, or even a bad bite which means there’s a size difference between the upper and lower jaw so the teeth don’t align properly. Generally speaking, if you or your spouse needed braces at some point, there’s a good chance that your child will as well.
As your child’s first adult teeth start coming in, their dentist will usually be the first to spot any problems that may require the intervention of an orthodontist, which is why it’s good to take them for regular checkups.
When Should You Visit The Orthodontist?
It’s safe to suggest that you should take your child for their first orthodontist visit when their first permanent teeth start coming in so they can make sure everything is going smoothly. Though this varies for every child (some can go as young as 6 and some not until they’re 10), by taking them to the orthodontist sooner rather than later, they can oftentimes spot out problems such as bad bites and crowding early on and implement a treatment plan.
Different Kinds of Braces
Braces work to correct problems by applying steady, constant pressure to the teeth and slowly aligning them into a straight position. When it comes to braces, kids are either going to be excited to get them as a sign of growing up, or worried about the way they will look and feel.
For most kids, traditional braces with brackets, wires, and colored rubber bands will work just fine. If your child is worried about how noticeable they will be, nowadays, clear or white braces are common and much less noticeable. You can also check with your orthodontist to see if clear, removable braces are an available option.
Dietary Choices & Oral Health
Now that we’ve covered all of the different stages and experiences your baby will go through during their dental journey, it’s time we talk about diet.
Even though it’s common knowledge that dietary choices affect our overall health, did you know that they also play an important role in maintaining healthy teeth and gums? While good dental hygiene habits are a great place to start, the foods and drinks your child or teenager consume will affect their oral health in either a positive or negative way.
There’s no shortage of poor food choices when strolling down the aisles of many popular supermarkets across the nation. Things get even more complicated when your kids tag along and seemingly always get hypnotized by the cleverly branded sugar-based foods and beverages that line the shelves.
As the parent, it’s important that you not only make the right dietary choices for you and your kids, but that you also teach them how to shop for themselves since they will one day have to go shopping on their own.
Why is Diet Important To Oral Health?
Just as the body can become more susceptible to illnesses and diseases when your diet is poor, so too can your teeth and gums. Teeth are especially vulnerable to sugary foods, sweetened beverages, and products that have a high level of acidity.
The outermost layer that protects your teeth is known as enamel, which also happens to be the hardest and most densely mineralized substance in the human body. Not only does it protect the inner layers of your teeth from the damaging effects of acid and plaque, but it also helps to reduce sensitivity when consuming foods and drinks that are hot or cold.
Having good dental hygiene habits is a great way to preserve your enamel, but your diet also has a big effect. When you consume foods and drinks that are bad for your teeth, your enamel can wear down over time and become susceptible to tooth decay as well as a number of other dental health problems.
Poor dietary choices can also weaken the immune system, making your mouth more susceptible to infections. As a parent, in addition to making sure your kids adopt good dental hygiene habits, you also need to make sure they understand the dietary choices that are both good and bad for their teeth.
Foods to Avoid
1. Sugary Beverages
These are by far some of the most damaging beverages you can consume. Even though the USDA suggest that we shouldn’t consume more than 12 teaspoons of sugar per day, the average 12-ounce can of soda contains nearly 10 teaspoons – more than 83% of the recommended daily intake!
In addition to coating the entire mouth in sugar, these kinds of beverages also promote plaque build-up and bacterial growth between brushings. Many beverages out there claim to be “all natural” or advertise vitamin and mineral content (such as Gatorade and Powerade), but they’re still loaded with sugar.
We’re not saying that you should deprive your child of all candy, but if you’re going to let them have some, make it an infrequent treat. Hard candy, in particular, is damaging to the teeth on two fronts due to the high sugar content and its ability to crack or chip teeth.
On the other hand, soft, chewy candy is also very bad for teeth because it tends to get stuck along the ridges and in-between, exposing your enamel to damaging sugars over a long period of time. Try to replace candy consumption with healthy snacks when possible.
3. Citrus-Based Products
Even though fruits are known to be packed with beneficial vitamins, people often overlook how damaging some of them can be to teeth due to the acidity. Citrus-based foods and beverages have high levels of acid that serve to break down tooth enamel when continuously exposed.
This is especially true of sour candies that often contain high levels of acid, some of which have been found to have a pH level close to that of battery acid. Keep the consumption of citrus low and be sure to have water on hand after eating or drinking any.
Foods That Are Good For Your Teeth
1. Dairy Products
Dairy products like milk and cheese are going to have much lower sugar levels than many processed foods, making them a great alternative. In addition, dairy products are naturally rich in calcium, a mineral that is almost exclusively stored in your teeth and bones and helps strengthen them.
For this reason, pediatric dentistry recommends that children drink and consume dairy products early on to meet the body’s demands. Dairy also has a low pH level which can help to combat acidic foods or drinks that you may have consumed prior, reducing the risk of tooth decay.
2. High Fiber Foods
Foods high in fiber are good for your teeth because it helps to stimulate saliva production while generally requiring a lot of chewing to ingest. This serves to create a scrubbing-like action while eating, helping to wash away plaque and bacteria that may be building up between meals.
Saliva is also the body’s natural defense against cavities since it acts to neutralize acids. Some common high fiber foods include leafy greens like spinach and nuts such as almonds.
Water is definitely not the most exciting drink you can have, but it’s by far the healthiest and most beneficial for your teeth and gums. This is especially true if you’re drinking water with fluoride in it, a compound that has been shown to help make your teeth less susceptible to the damaging effects of acids and sugars.
When you or your kids are craving a sugary drink, choosing water is a much healthier choice that can cleanse the mouth and keep it hydrated.
No matter what stage of life your children are in, instilling good oral hygiene habits is important. Starting at an early age with regular visits to the dentist truly helps create a lifetime of comfort in a dental office setting. At Inland Family Dentistry we recognize that folks of all ages experience dental fear more times than not. We take pride in our approach to introducing kids of all ages to the dental office and look forward to watching them grow over the years.