A Baby’s First Brushing

Of all baby’s firsts, brushing should be one of those considered, first! Even those bare newborn gums need to be cleaned as a preventative measure for tooth decay. Below the surface lie tiny teeth, which gradually peek through the gums during the first 2 1/2 years of life. From birth to the the appearance of the first tooth, we say, the sooner the better to brush!

In most cases, babies clearly don’t have teeth from the time of birth. But, when is a good time to begin caring for your baby’s mouth? This is a very important question and one which many parents are unsure.

Good dental care begins at birth, before the teeth are even visible. The American Dental Association suggests that parents begin cleaning their baby’s mouth once a day during the first few days after birth. Despite your infant’s exclusive diet of breastmilk or formula, the gums should be cleaned of the residue. Wipe your baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad after each feeding to remove this residue that can harm erupting teeth. Cleaning your child’s mouth at this early stage will also help them to become accustomed with the whole process, meaning your child may not object to the toothbrush later on!

As your baby grows and changes, so does their need for care. Your child’s primary teeth, sometimes called “baby teeth,” are equally important as their permanent adult teeth and they are also vulnerable to tooth decay from their very first appearance. So why are baby teeth important to care for if they will eventually lose them?

Your baby’s Primary teeth will typically begin to appear between age 6 months and 1 year and caring for these first teeth sets the stage for the health and development of permanent teeth. Though your baby’s primary teeth will fall out, they do serve some important functions: primary teeth help children chew and speak as well as hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are growing under the gums.

baby_gum_swabIf you haven’t already established oral care, The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that care should be implemented no later than the time the first primary tooth cuts through the gums. This is often an unpleasant time for both babies and parents alike, since many infants will experience teething symptoms prior to “cutting” their first tooth and those to follow. Brushing your infant’s teeth as soon as they surface helps to reduce bacterial colonization. When your baby’s teeth begin to emerge, brush them gently with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and water two times a day. It isn’t absolutely essential to use toothpaste to clean your baby’s teeth; the brushing action itself is the most important part of keeping them clean. As recommended by The American Dental Association, a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste for children two and older is all that is needed. If you prefer to use toothpaste, choose one that is designed specifically for infants after consulting with your child’s dentist.

As tedious as dental care for your baby can be, establishing healthy habits from the start is crucial to the longevity of your child’s oral health. Every parent struggles with their children whether it is getting them to eat broccoli or picking up toys. So how can you make a positive, fun experience for your child that will encourage them to care for their teeth? Younger and older babies alike will be more apt to brush their teeth if you make the entire experience fun.

For your younger baby, it works best to start brushing teeth from the time they are born. This way dental hygiene becomes a part of your child’s daily routine before she becomes the typically combative toddler afflicted with a case of the “no’s.” Allow her to grip the toothbrush and play with it, never force it into her mouth which may cause a negative association and possible gagging. Even if you are using a wet cloth, let your baby touch it as you play or sing with her to make it an enjoyable game.

For your older baby, you might buy an electric toothbrush that’ll do a lot of the cleanup work and enthrall her with the noise it makes at the same time. If you prefer to use a regular toothbrush, take her to the store and let her choose her own toothbrush. Some feature cartoon characters on them that children love. If your baby won’t open her mouth when it’s time to brush her teeth, then try putting a brush in your mouth, since babies love to mimic whatever Mom or dad is doing! Also, make brushing a family activity; let your child watch you as you brush your own teeth, and make the most of teaching your child through your example. If you act as if brushing teeth is one of the most enjoyable things you do in your day, she may chose to enjoy it as well!