How vital are baby teeth? Many parents don’t think much about our children’s oral health during the first year or two of their life. After all, they have so few of them and they’re going to fall out anyway.
The problem with this notion is that cavities and infections in baby teeth can spread to adult teeth, and cause more permanent damage. Since that’s the case, you need to start paying more attention to those first few pearly whites.
From best bottle-feeding practices to brushing for beginners, here are four ways to keep your baby’s teeth in top shape.
1. Be Good to the Gums
Good oral health starts with the gums, so from your child’s first days, make sure to wipe down the gums after feedings, keep pacifiers clean, and be careful to avoid sharing saliva with your infant. That means if a pacifier falls on the ground, skip the “mommy trick” of cleaning it with your own mouth because you can introduce unfamiliar oral bacteria that may cause infections.
Similarly, babies love to stick their fingers everywhere, so guard your mouth against creeping little hands. Those adorable baby fingers headed toward your mouth will later find their way back to your child’s vulnerable teeth and gums.
2. Bedtime Bottles
One of the leading causes of early childhood tooth decay is improper bottle use. It even has a name: baby bottle tooth decay.
This ailment is linked to falling asleep with a bottle because the sugars in the milk serve as food for oral bacteria. Infants shouldn’t be allowed to fall asleep with a bottle or while nursing; and if they do, you should carefully wipe their gums with a damp cloth to remove any residue.
Remember, a bottle isn’t a pacifier. Falling asleep with a pacifier during the early months of life is not likely to cause significant damage (though it can cause the teeth to become crooked), but falling asleep with a bottle or sippy cup can rot your little one’s teeth.
3. Beverage Bans
Though many doctors have stopped recommending fruit juice for young children, many parents still provide it. If you’re going to give your child juice, limit it to meal times, and don’t allow your child to walk around constantly with a cup of juice or milk, because this can have a similar effect to sleeping with a bottle. It’s a recipe for tooth decay.
4. Big Kid Cups
Most parents regard sippy cups as an absolute necessity, so their children have one at least part of the time through their preschool years. Unfortunately, sippy cups are actually a largely unnecessary innovation: They were devised to keep your floors clean, not because your child can’t use a regular cup.
In fact, as soon as your little one can sit up, you can start introducing him or her to a normal cup. By 12 to 15 months, your child should be using an open cup for drinks because these cups are less likely to cause sugars from the drink to gather around the teeth and cause decay.
Transitioning to a normal cup is also good for speech development. In addition, there’s a bonus that they can’t take a regular cup to bed.
Your child’s early years are full of transitions, but the sooner you can teach him or her to self-soothe without a bottle, drink from a standard cup, and keep the teeth and gums clean, the better for long-term oral health.
It’s not difficult, but it takes a commitment to give up conveniences that may lead to baby bottle tooth decay.