Many parents wonder when they should first think about infant dental care. We all know that dental health plays an important part in everyone’s life. No matter our age, we need to practice good dental hygiene to make sure that we prevent tooth decay and gum disease. For young, growing children, good dental care plays just as an important role as it does for adults.
For parents with very young children, though, knowing when to start considering infant dental care isn’t so clear. In reality, it’s really never too early to start thinking about, talking about, and even practicing good dental practices. As we will discuss in a moment, teeth begin to develop even during pregnancy before your child has even been born. This means, it’s never too early to plan for good infant dental care.
When thinking about planning for infant dental care, it might be best to think about the care in terms of phases. The first phase starts with pregnancy. The next phases goes into teething and then your first consultation, dental visit, and finally developing long term healthy dental practices. Let’s now look at each of these phases more in depth, starting with infant dental care during pregnancy.
Phase 1: During Pregnancy
Infant dental care actually needs to start even before your child’s birth. During the 9 months of pregnancy, your child grows and develops within the womb. This development covers nearly every part of the human body including the teeth.
In fact, while rare, some babies are actually born with teeth. Called natal teeth, doctors aren’t always certain why these occur. If your baby has teeth upon birth, though, you should consult with your doctor on how to handle them and if you should seek to have them removed.
In general, though, most babies don’t have teeth upon birth. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand that the development of teeth has already begun. With this in mind, the mother needs to maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy to help with this early development. The best infant dental care during pregnancy simply involves the mother taking good care of her own health, diet, and dental hygiene.
A healthy mother helps with all stages of early development. Furthermore, for mothers who may not have always practiced good dental hygiene, pregnancy is always a good time to start. Good oral hygiene for the mother during pregnancy can directly affect the health of the baby in the womb. Additionally, this way, as your newborn grows up, they can follow your example on how to take good care of their teeth and gums.
Phase 2: Teething
The second phase of infant dental care involves teething. As we just discussed, children actually develop teeth during pregnancy. At birth, they have all 20 of their baby teeth under their gums. The next phase with development simply involves bringing the teeth through the gums, which almost all parents know as teething.
Teething usually starts occurring in young children between half a year and a year old. Most all parent are familiar with the signs that teething has begun. Such outward symptoms of teething include excessive fussiness, excessive drooling, and increased irritability. These signs shouldn’t be any cause for concern, though, as teething happens as a natural healthy process. However, if you notice signs of a rash forming, diarrhea, or fever along with teething, you should consult your doctor to see if there is a more serious issue occurring.
When your baby starts teething, you can help calm them by gently rubbing their gums or with giving them a clean hard teether to chew on. You can also consult your doctor or parent’s groups on the best teethers to choose from. While you’ll want to soothe the teething process as much as you can, your child will progress through it normally and usually with few complications.
Good infant dental care during teething involves cleaning the teeth and gums with a wet washcloth at least once every day. As more teeth start to come in, you should start cleaning more regularly, at least twice every day. Starting with cleaning practices early helps to ensure that the first teeth coming through stay healthy as your baby continues growing.
Phase 3: First Dental Consultation
As your child starts to have teeth come in, you should start considering the next phase of infant dental care: talking to your doctor about dental history. Even while your child is still very young you should start talking to your child’s pediatrician about their future dental care. Infant dental care should start almost as soon as your child is born. Soon after birth and no later than six months of age, you should first talk to your pediatrician about potential dental health concerns.
You should discuss your own and your family’s dental health with the doctor. Using family dental history and your child’s overall health and development, your pediatrician can help you plan for future dental care.
While we might not always first think about talking to our pediatrician about dental health, this step provides a vital introduction towards first visiting a dentist. Additionally, oral health can greatly impact and be an indicator for overall health. Your pediatrician should know and understand your family history, and should follow along with your child’s dental development. Remember that your child’s pediatrician is there to assist in the care of your child’s overall health. Before considering seeing a dentist, talk to your child’s primary care doctor as a first step.
Phase 4: First Dentist Visit
After talking to your child’s pediatrician, the next phase of infant dental care involves actually going to see the dentist for the first time. While recommendations vary, most experts encourage parents to first take their young children to the dentist between 6 months and 1 year of age. The good rule of thumb is that you should see a dentist between when the first tooth comes in and the child’s first birthday. Again, though, you can also discuss the timing of the visit with your child’s pediatrician. Taking your family history into account, your doctor might recommend a sooner visit than you might have already been planning.
You should try to take your child to the family dentist that normally sees all members of your family. This way, you will already be familiar with the dentist and the staff and the procedures at the office. Also, the dentist will already know some about you and your history.
The first visit for your child will usually involve preliminary checks of the mouth and jaw. The dentist will want to check for normal developmental signs and any indicators of disease or developmental concerns. The check usually won’t last very long and at the end the dentist will finish with a cleaning and then discuss with you proper cleaning practices for use at home. After you have the first check up, you can also discuss with the dentist when the next visits should be and how best to prepare your child for each visit.
After seeing the dentist, you should feel safe and in good hands. You should see your dentist and pediatrician as part of your team for providing good infant dental care. Work with both of them as resources to help safeguard your child’s health as they continue to grow.
Phase 5: Developing Long-term Healthy Dental Routines
The final stage of infant dental care shifts towards developing long-term healthy dental practices as your child moves towards caring for permanent teeth. Permanent teeth typically don’t come in until around the age of 6 or 7. Still, you should use the early years as a chance to really instill healthy dental practices and routines.
Infant dental care should focus on overall dental health practices. As your child grows, you should encourage regular brushing, flossing, and cleaning of the gums. Additionally, you should focus on feeding your child a healthy balanced diet while limiting sugars especially before bedtime.
Additionally, you should consider your child’s environment. Make sure that your child sees good dental and dietary practices at home. Also, make sure you limit secondhand cigarette smoke as much as possible. Secondhand smoke can cause tooth decay.
Finally, you need to eliminate your child sucking on their finger or thumb as early as possible. At least by the age of four, your child should have stopped sucking on their thumb on a regular basis. If your child struggles with giving up thumb sucking, talk to your dentist about possible methods to help curb the practice.
This last phase of infant dental care continues on into young adolescence and develops with your child as they grow. Building and maintaining healthy dental practices and rhythms follows with us all the rest of our lives. Make sure you start young, though, and continue to always encourage good dental cleaning practices for overall health in any stage of life.
Making Infant Dental Care a Priority
When caring for an infant, you need to consider a lot of areas of development and growth. One area that may tend to overlook involves the care of your child’s teeth and gums. Some parents might think that baby teeth aren’t permanent so infant dental care doesn’t have to be priority. Nothing can be further from the truth, though.
Your child’s dental health has a significant impact on their early development. It can affect how they develop eating habits, whether or not they have tooth decay or gum disease, and whether they develop good brushing and flossing habits as they grow older. For parents then, you need to make a priority of modeling and enforcing good dental practices in your child as early as possible.
When your child is born, be sure to consider the phases and stages of early infant dental care. Planning ahead makes the process easier as your baby grows. Furthermore, making sure that you involve your pediatrician and family dentist early and often helps keep dental health a priority through your child’s early development.
As soon as you select a pediatrician to care for your child and family, start talking with them about early developmental practices including dental care. As your child grows older then, dental care will become second nature and good practices will develop into regular routines improving your child’s health for years to come.