Most infants start developing teeth only by the age of six months, but it is important to care for their oral hygiene from the beginning. Cleaning of the baby's gums soon after birth, should be incorporated in their daily hygiene chores. Though the babies can be a little finicky in the beginning, they begin to enjoy the feeling of a clean mouth, just like a clean body and it also helps develop the habit for life.
- Wipe your infant’s gums or teeth,especially along the gum line, with a soft cloth after breast or bottle feeding - Dental plaque (which contains microorganisms) forms not only on teeth but also on the gum pads and tongue. This needs to be cleaned off so that the mouth is germ free. This also helps prevent fungal infections, which are seen in cases of lack of oral hygiene in infants.
- Avoid putting your infant to bed with a bottle or sipper cup containing anything other than water - This prevents pooling of liquids in the mouth undisturbed for a long period of time, which is the prime cause of Early Childhood Caries.
- Avoid saliva-sharing behaviors, such as kissing the baby on the mouth, sharing a spoon when tasting baby food, cleaning a dropped pacifier by mouth or wiping the baby’s mouth with a cloth moistened with saliva. For older children, avoid the sharing of straws, cups or utensils - Such acts can result in transfer of microorganisms from adults to children which can cause infections in general, as well as dental decay.
- Use a bottle or sipper cup between meals containing only water - A gap of 4hrs between meals is recommended for remineralisation of the enamel following demineralisation which occurs during meals.
- Begin weaning children from at-will bottle and sipper cup use (such as in an effort to pacify a child’s behavior) by about 12 months of age.
- Choose fresh fruit rather than fruit juice to meet the recommended daily fruit intake - fresh fruit contains fibre which is healthier than juice as well as acts as a cleansing agent for teeth. Also fruit is less retentive on teeth as compared to juice.
- Brush your child’s teeth using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, especially before bedtime. Children older than 2 should use fluoride toothpaste; children younger than 2 should use a smear of fluoride toothpaste on the brush only if they are at moderate to high risk of developing caries. Take care that the children avoid swallowing the toothpaste as over-toxicity of fluoride from toothpaste can lead to bone deformities.
- Help your child brush their teeth until they are about 7 years old. Teeth brushing involves a certain amount of dexterity which develops well only by the age of 7.
- Regularly lift the lip and look in your child’s mouth for white or brown spots on the teeth.
- The first dental visit should be done when the child is 1 year of age or when the first tooth erupts. This helps evaluate if there are any risk factors for decay and helps correct it before it becomes too late.
Baby teeth eventually fall out when their permanent/adult counterparts erupt. But baby teeth are most important because they keep space for the permanent teeth and fall off when the permanent one is ready to erupt. Hence early removal of baby teeth can cause the permanent teeth to erupt out of line. Also baby teeth play an important role in your child’s overall health, development, and well-being. They help in speech development and assist in providing good nutrition to the child through proper chewing. So, set a good example and care for your infant's teeth.