Teeth serve essential functions. They contribute to the digestive process by crushing and breaking down food. They are fundamental in helping a person speak and pronounce words. They’re also great for contributing to a healthy and beautiful smile. From a very young age, it is imperative that teeth are looked after carefully to ensure their longevity.
Oral hygiene for babies is crucial. If teeth are not cared for adequately at a young age, it can lead to tooth decay and premature extraction of baby teeth. Rotting baby teeth can lead to infections and diseases, which can also affect permanent adult teeth.
According to The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, almost a third of five-year-olds are suffering from tooth decay, and it is the most common reason why five- to nine-year-olds are admitted to hospital. In some cases, children as young as two are admitted for multiple tooth extractions under general anaesthetic, despite tooth decay being almost entirely preventable.
Based on these horrifying statistics, it’s clear that there is a lack of information amongst parents on how to properly care for their baby's teeth.
Instilling Habits at an Early Age
Between the ages of 3 and 7 months, depending on the child, parents can expect to see baby teeth sprouting from their child's gums. It is always recommended that at the sign of the child's first teeth, parents begin implementing oral hygiene habits. Of course, a baby cannot practice these on their own, so it is your responsibility to take care of your baby's teeth as they emerge. Using mouth wipes to clean gums, the tongue, and inside of the mouth is a great way to introduce oral cleaning.
I recommend brush-baby dental wipes, which are soft and disposable. They are textured to help cleanse delicate gums and the first baby teeth. Formulated with Xylitol to combat decay causing bacteria, they have a finger sleeve design for gently wiping the soft tissues of the mouth. Pop them in the fridge for an extra cooling sensation for teething babies.
Six Months to a Year
Around six months to a year, the baby’s first tooth is very apparent. As soon as teeth start appearing, it is time to start brushing using a smear amount of children's toothpaste with fluoride. For maximum protection, use a toothpaste with 1350-1500 parts per million (ppm) and for children under three use no less than 1000 ppm.
Opt for a small soft-bristled manual toothbrush or appropriate electric toothbrush. This will rid the teeth of any food particles, and the fluoride will strengthen them. Do this daily before bed and at one other time during the day. All parents and guardians are advised by the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry to ensure that babies are taken to see a dentist as soon as their first teeth come through, and before their first birthday.
One Year & Beyond
At the age of one, keeping up with baby's oral hygiene is necessary as teeth will continue to push through their gums. Having a regimen in place is conducive to the health of their teeth. Flossing is also ideal if you find food is lodged or it is difficult to get in between teeth with the bristles (I like brush-baby FlossBrush - check it out!).
As your child continues to grow, so will their teeth. By the age of 3, all baby teeth should be present in their mouth. Around the age of 6, baby teeth start to come out as adult teeth begin to push through. The first permanent back tooth (molar) starts to erupt around this time too. Good oral hygiene at this stage is vital as your child advances through these stages so that their permanent teeth remain healthy and strong.
Limiting Sugar Intake
With a rising number of young children having their baby teeth extracted due to dental decay, it’s extremely important to look at your child’s diet as part of their overall oral healthcare.
Tooth decay is primarily caused by poor food and beverage choices - particularly those with high levels of sugar such as fizzy drinks. When food items containing high levels of sugar are consumed, bacteria in the mouth thrive off of the sugars from these. The bacteria then cling to the teeth, creating a chemical reaction that eats away at the enamel (the hard outer, protective layer of the teeth).
When this layer erodes, teeth become susceptible to damage and decay. Limiting the intake of sugary foods, consuming healthier options, and brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste will reduce enamel erosion and tooth decay. Keep all sugars and acids to meal times only and aim for no more than three to four sugar/acid attacks per day. Opt for safe snacks such as fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, plain crisps, rice cakes and popcorn. Choose water over juice, which should be diluted and saved as an occasional treat.
Yearly Dental Check-Ups
Oral hygiene for babies and children is a topic that many dentists and hygienists are happy to discuss with parents. Visit your dental hygienist in London to minimise the chances of developing gum disease and tooth decay.