Healthy Teeth for Your Baby and Toddler: When to See the Dentist, How to Prevent Cavities, & Other Dental Issues
If you’re the parent of a baby or toddler, you may think you have plenty of time before making her a dental appointment. After all, if she doesn’t have any teeth coming in, what’s the point? But that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, it’s never too early to get a good start on healthy teeth.
How Soon Should My Baby or Toddler See the Dentist?
As a pediatric dentist, I recommend getting kids in for their first dental checkup before their first birthday. This way we can make sure we’re preventing cavities before they occur. And for the teeth that are already in, we get a chance to see what the enamel looks like. At this age we also can determine if there is a higher risk of your child getting cavities. If we see issues that could lead to cavities we will visit with you about your child’s diet and oral hygiene, because these are important for developing healthy teeth.
And once children begin going to the dentist, I urge parents to bring them in every six months. If we identify that a child has cavities starting to form, we can catch them early.
Ways You Can Help Prevent Cavities and Other Dental Issues for Your Infant or Toddler
- Reduce or eliminate sugar from their diet. You might be surprised to learn that some things that seem healthy really aren’t, because they contain a lot of sugar. This is especially true with juice and chocolate milk. My recommendation is not to give kids juice. If I give my little three year-old a small glass of juice, she’ll drink it and want more before you know it! It’s too much sugar.
- Get them started on water. It’s a healthy habit for all of us. Having your child drink water at an early age builds healthy habits for life, plus it helps their body function properly.
- Mind the temptations. Once kids move to solid foods, temptations are everywhere. Whether it’s coming from grandparents or parents, we like to spoil our kids. So it’s tough to want to spoil them, but then also be mindful of the sugar they’re taking in. I urge parents to be mindful of candy, cookies and chips – all of the processed treats. That includes gummies and fruit roll ups! They sounds healthy, but I call them the ‘dreaded fruit snacks’ because they create a lot of cavities. As a parent, I get it. They’re easy. But please, try to avoid purchasing those fruit snacks!
- Brush those teeth twice a day as soon as they come through the gum tissue, using a soft toothbrush. Your child’s age doesn’t matter. Once they get teeth, we’ve got to take care of them.
- When you brush your child’s teeth, just gently massage the teeth. At this point you’re getting rid of plaque and keeping everything clean and healthy.
- Use a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste. For your infant, who is not able to spit out the toothpaste, just a tiny bit of fluoride toothpaste, the amount of a grain of rice, is plenty. This is enough to help prevent decay.
- Use whichever flavor your child likes or will tolerate. My daughter says our mint toothpaste is too spicy! She likes the fruity flavored toothpastes and those are just fine.
A Word About Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking
Parents often ask me about these behaviors and how they affect dental development. The question I get most often from parents is: Will this cause their teeth to grow in out of line? Unfortunately, it can. When a thumb or pacifier is in your child’s mouth, it pushes on structures in the mouth, whether it’s the teeth or bone structures, and moves them. Timely intervention is really important here.
- Pacifier – Try to wean your child from this early on. At around a year or 18 months old, I like children to be done with the pacifier. It could be molding the upper arch and changing the shape of your child’s palate.
- Thumb Sucking – The longer your child sucks his thumb or fingers, the higher the risk of changing the shape of his arch or palate. I recommend parents work on this habit and get it conquered by age three.
Start Early for Your Child’s Good Dental Health and Habits
I hope these tips are helpful for you. Taking your kids to the dentist early on gives them a good start on great dental health and habits, and helps get them comfortable with the environment of a dentist’s office. This also helps them have great dental experiences when they come to their dental home.
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Marty Killeen, DDS
Marty is a pediatric dentist with Wilderness Station Pediatric Dentistry.