People used to say “oh, they’re just baby teeth”. In fact, baby teeth are important. Good, healthy baby teeth will pave the way for good healthy adult teeth. And by helping children to take good care of their teeth, you are starting habits that will last them all their lives.
When a baby is born, the first set of teeth is already there, just under the gums. The arrival of a baby’s first tooth is always an exciting time! The front teeth usually begin to come through the gums between six and twelve months. Over the next 2 years the remaining ‘baby’ teeth will appear. By the time a child is 3 years old all 20 baby teeth will have arrived. These teeth are very important for eating, talking and smiling. They also keep spaces for the adult teeth.
Diet and a Baby’s Dental Health
Babies are not born with a sweet tooth. Babies will enjoy home-made baby foods without sugar. If you’re buying baby foods, look out for the ones without sugar. You don’t have to buy special juices either. Babies will enjoy ordinary fruit juice. For very young babies you should dilute juice with plenty of cooled boiled water.
Sugar and sugary foods can be a tooth’s worst enemy. For good dental health cut down on how often a baby eats sugary foods and drink. Give them as part of a meal instead of between meals if you can. Having sugary foods and drinks too often puts the teeth at risk of tooth decay. This is especially important once the baby teeth start to appear (around 6 months).
The best way of caring for a baby’s teeth is to give food that helps a baby grow and develop. You can use the Food Pyramid as a guide – choose plenty of the foods from the bottom of the pyramid, and less of the foods at the top. You can see that sugary foods are at the top of the Pyramid.
It is important never to give sweet drinks in the baby bottle. This can be harmful once a baby’s teeth start appearing. Try not to let the baby develop the habit of sleeping with a bottle at night or at nap time. Infants and toddlers should not be put to bed with a feeding bottle or dinky feeder. Baby’s bottle should be used for feeding – not as a pacifier.
A baby will be able to use a cup at 6 months, and they can be weaned off a bottle by 12 months. Give baby plenty of cooled boiled water to drink and about 1 pint of milk each day (breast or formulated milk up to one year and cows milk after that).
Some babies get sore gums when they are teething. Babies can get restless or irritable, and they might start sleeping or feeding badly. Sometimes this may lead to problems digesting food or to loose stools. Teething doesn’t make a baby really sick, though, so any sick child should be seen by a doctor – don’t pass it off as just ‘teething’.
If baby’s gums seem sore or baby seems cranky and dribbles a lot, there are some things that you can do to help.
Try giving baby something to chew on. There is a good selection of teething rings on the market – but make sure they are made of soft material and are big enough so that there is no danger of choking. Some parents/carers find that teething rings containing fluid which can be cooled in the fridge are best. Milk, cooled boiled water, or very diluted sugar-free fruit juices may help – sweet drinks do not. If baby wakes at night and is irritable, you can use a mild pain reliever – preferably sugar-free. Ask your doctor or public health nurse to recommend one. Avoid ointments which numb the gum unless your dentist recommends them.
Not all children need soothers or pacifiers. If you feel the baby needs a pacifier it is important to make sure it is of the correct design. An Orthodontic type one is the most suitable. Only use it when absolutely necessary and wean the baby off it as soon as possible. Otherwise it may have long term ill effects on the way a baby’s teeth grow. Never dip the soother into sugary liquid (honey, jams or syrupy medicines) to encourage the child to use it.
Babies get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from sucking things – including their own thumbs. There is no real harm in letting them suck their thumbs. Most infants will stop of their own accord. You can expect children to have given up sucking by the age of 4 years.
Thumbsucking is only really a problem if children go on sucking their thumbs after this age. Some children suck their thumbs very hard. This can pull their teeth out of shape. Children who suck hard should be helped to give up. It you want to help a child to give up sucking, remember that sucking makes the child feel contented and secure. Encourage the child to do other things instead.
When children are learning to walk they are especially likely to fall and injure their teeth or mouth. You should bring a child to see a dentist if they hurt their mouth and the bleeding doesn’t stop, or if they damage a tooth, or if they fall and drive a tooth back up into their gum. Your dentist will be able to take an x-ray and decide if anything needs to be done. Very often, all that is needed after an injury is to keep a close eye on the child’s teeth and gums for a while, but you should check with a dentist to make sure.