After much anticipation and possibly angst, your little one finally reaches a big milestone – their first tooth cuts through the gums – hooray! Many parents are surprised to learn that this is the time when they should start cleaning their child’s teeth (or tooth as it may be…). Baby teeth may be small but they are important for eating, the development of speech and they act as place-holders for adult teeth (to prevent crowding) and so it is important to keep them as clean and healthy as possible.
Even before the first tooth comes in, begin by introducing a routine where after every feeding, you take a clean, damp cloth or gauze or a baby toothbrush (only water, no toothpaste) and gently wipe over your baby’s gums and tongue. As the teeth come in, clean the teeth, gums and tongue after every feeding. It is especially important to do this at night e.g. for overnight feedings/dream feeds because otherwise milk and/or food sits in the mouth and on the teeth and can cause them to decay more rapidly.
Often parents will voice concern to me that if they try to clean their child’s mouth in this manner, the child will wake and/or will cry. This is one of the reasons why it is important to start the routine early and continue with it consistently, even if the child cries – so they will become used to it and it will not be upsetting to them. But I also urge parents to consider that some things (like changing diapers for instance), we as parents do because it is necessary, even if our child cries. This is how I view the importance of brushing teeth from a very early age. Yes, it is true, your child may cry (they also may surprise you and not cry), but if they do, you can use the opportunity to quickly brush their teeth and gums while their mouth is open. And while it is certainly momentarily upsetting to make your child cry, consider that the consequences of not brushing, such as infection, swelling and pain or cavities (potentially requiring anti-biotics, extraction of teeth and use of general anesthesia because babies can’t sit still for cavity fillings or tooth extractions) are so much worse than the alternative of a few moments of brushing.
So the take home lesson here is brush, early and often, and stick with it. Your child will thank you for it (hopefully one day)….
Dr. Tal Lewinger is a general dentist and owner of Marketplace Dentistry in Vaughan, Ontario practising eco-responsible (and fun) family and cosmetic dentistry (www.marketplacedentistry.ca) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 905-303-6080.