Health Team

Dentists: Proper oral health starts before teeth arrive

Posted June 14, 2012 6:24 a.m. EDT
Updated June 14, 2012 6:48 a.m. EDT

— Even before a child has a mouthful of teeth, they should be making trips to the dentist. 

In fact, dentists recommend that children have their first dental exam after their first tooth comes in, no later than their first birthday.

For most children, primary teeth – often called "baby teeth" – usually begin coming in when they are 6 months old. 

Although they do fall out, dentists say primary teeth are just as important as adult teeth because they held children speak and chew and hold space in the jaw for permanent teeth that follow.

Before teeth are visible, there are several steps parents can take to improve oral health. According to dentists with the North Carolina Dental Society, parents should wipe down their baby's gums with a clean cloth after every feeding to remove plaque. 

As soon as teeth appear, parents should begin brushing them with a children's toothbrush and water.

Toothpaste isn't recommended until children turn 2 years old, and dentists say it's imperative that parents thoroughly rinse out the child's mouth with water after brushing.

Dentists also said that parents should avoid sharing spoons with babies because of the risk of oral infection being transmitted through saliva. This includes pacifiers, which should be kept clean. 

At night, don't put a baby to bed with a bottle, even with breast milk or formula, dentists said.

Any liquid containing sugar, like fruit juices or sweetened water, can be harmful. The resulting tooth decay can become severe enough that individual teeth have to be removed. 

Dentists recommend that babies finish their bottle before going down for a nap or going to sleep at night.