Many parents have the misconception that they don't have to worry about their child's dental health until his or her first teeth erupt. While taking care of those first teeth is very important, you can actually take steps to ensure your baby's teeth come in healthy and stay healthy before those teeth even erupt. Here are four ways to take great care of your baby's dental health in early infancy.
Don't put your baby to bed with a bottle.
Babies who are put to bed with a bottle of milk, juice or formula in their mouth often develop a condition called baby bottle tooth decay. This condition involves extensive decay of the baby teeth and may require that your young child have many fillings and other dental restorations. Baby bottle tooth decay can have its beginning before your baby's teeth even erupt. When the sugar from your baby's milk or juice sit on the gums all night, it perpetuates the replication of oral bacteria. Then, when the teeth do erupt, their enamel is immediately exposed to high levels of these bacteria, which leads to decay. If your baby gets into the habit of going to bed with a bottle now, it will also be very hard to break that habit when the teeth do erupt.
If your baby has trouble going to sleep without a bottle, try using a pacifier instead. Don't dip it in honey or sugar before use, and make sure the pacifier you choose carries the "ADA" seal, as this indicates it has been shown not to disrupt dental alignment.
Make sure mother and baby are drinking fluoridated water.
Many parents prefer to give their babies bottled water rather than tap water. The downfall to this is that bottled water is not always fortified with fluoride, a mineral that your baby needs in order to develop healthy tooth enamel. Mothers may also drink non-fluoridated water, and studies suggest this might result in lower levels of fluoride in the breast milk. Even before the teeth erupt, it's important for your baby to be getting enough fluoride in order to ensure the tooth enamel develops strongly. You can ensure this by only giving your baby either bottled water that has been fortified with fluoride, or tap water that has been fortified with fluoride. (Most municipal tap water does contain fluoride. Check with your town if you're not sure whether yours does.) Mothers who are nursing their babies should also be sure to drink fluoridated water.
"Brush" your baby's gums with a soft cloth.
Before you put your baby to bed each night, wipe his or her gums with a soft, moistened cloth. If you can do this after every feeding, that's even better. This will help clear oral bacteria out of the mouth, which will keep the gums healthy and ensure the teeth stay healthier once they do erupt. Wiping your baby's gums will also get him or her used to having their mouth handled, so that when the teeth do start erupting, you can brush them more easily.
Don't transfer your saliva to your baby's mouth.
Try to avoid sharing a spoon with your baby or otherwise passing your saliva into the baby's mouth. When you share saliva, you pass bacteria from your mouth to your baby's mouth. This bacteria can colonize and replicate in your baby's mouth, increasing the risk of gum disease and later, when the teeth erupt, increasing the risk of tooth decay. If you need to sample your baby's food to make sure it's not too hot, do so with a spoon that's separate from the one you use for your baby.
If you practice these strategies before your baby's first tooth even emerges, he or she will be off to a great start in terms of dental health. If you have any specific concerns about your baby's dental health, speak with a pediatric dentist in your area.