Written by Sunnie Deng
Did you know that baby teeth are as important as adult teeth? When baby teeth first appear, they are already at risk for decay or cavities. Although baby teeth are not permanent, it is still important to take care of them because they help your child chew and talk.
In some cases, an infant’s or toddler’s tooth decay becomes so severe that the teeth cannot be saved and need to be removed (this is sometimes called baby bottle tooth decay). The good news is that there are many ways to prevent tooth decay. Here are a few tips.
Cleaning your child’s teeth
- Begin cleaning your baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth.
- After feeding, rub the gums and teeth with a damp gauze pad or baby’s toothbrush.
- Caregivers should start brushing a child’s teeth as soon as they appear in the mouth using grain-of-rice size amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- Use pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste for children 3-6 years old. Children under 6 should be supervised and helped to ensure they do it properly and do not swallow toothpaste.
- Caregivers can teach their child to floss when all the baby teeth have come in, usually around 2- 2 ½ years old.
Your child’s first dental visit
- Bring your child to the dentist as soon as the first tooth begins to appear.
- The American Dental Association recommends that a child’s first visit to the dentist should take place within 6 months of first tooth appearance, and by the age of 1 at the latest.
- Try to schedule an appointment in the morning when the child is more rested and tends to be more cooperative.
- Never bribe your child or use dental visit as a punishment.
- The earlier your child sees a dentist, the easier it will be to prevent tooth decay.
More tips on children’s dental health
- If your child needs a comforter, give a clean pacifier. Never give a pacifier that has any sugary liquid on it.
- Dilute juices to reduce sugar your child drinks.
- Avoid candy, dried fruits, and other sticky surgery items that will cling to your child’s teeth.
Help your child prevent tooth decay and other dental problems with good dental habits, regular dental checkups, and giving surgery treats in moderation. Be an active role model and encourage your child to practice good oral health habits for life!
Sunnie Deng is the dental program associate from the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from New York University and currently pursuing an MPH from Mount Sinai Medical School.