Getting the right start on dental care

I want to provide good dental care for my infant. Is there anything I should do prior to the eruption of my child's first teeth?

Question:

It is important to get an early start on preventative dental care. Some hospital-oriented prenatal courses invite dentists to provide instruction for prenatal and postnatal dental care. This counseling serves several functions. Expectant mothers often experience swollen, bleeding, and sore gums (i.e. pregnancy gingivitis). It appears that meticulous oral hygiene reduces this common condition. Certain medications, such as tetracycline, may stain the child's developing teeth. Postnatally, information about baby bottle tooth decay is extremely important.

Not only should parents be aware of and practice good oral hygiene habits, but they should help their children develop these habits as well. This includes early initiation of the cleaning process. I recommend gently cleaning the gums even before the primary teeth erupt. This will accustom the child to the cleaning process and provide a healthier environment for the erupting teeth If the gum tissue is covered with plaque, this will be the first substance the tooth contacts as it erupts. Obviously, this is not a healthy situation!

Following these recommended cleaning techniques can help ensure healthy gum tissue:

  • Select a time when the child is in a cooperative mood and inspect the gum tissue.
  • Wrap clean gauze around your finger and gently wipe the gums. No need to use toothpaste at this early stage. Even after the first tooth erupts, a gauze-wrapped finger can be used to wipe the tooth and surrounding gum tissue. As more teeth erupt a small, soft-bristled brush should be used to brush the teeth and gums.
  • Flossing should also be initiated as soon as two teeth erupt next to each other. This action will ensure the cleanliness of all sides of the teeth and get the child used to the flossing technique.

Here are some additional tips to keep your child's teeth healthy:

  • Never allow your child to sleep with a bottle filled with milk, juice, or other sugar-containing liquid.
  • Avoid adding extra sugar to your child's diet
  • If your community's water supply is not fluoridated, request fluoride supplements from your dentist or pediatrician.
  • When brushing your child's teeth with a fluoride toothpaste, use only a match head-sized amount of paste
  • Consider placing sealants on your child's teeth to help prevent tooth decay
  • A child's first dental visit should occur near their first birthday or 6 months after their first tooth erupts.

Again, I urge you to begin preventive care early and continue good oral hygiene throughout your infant's life.

Reference:

R.L. Braham et al., eds., "Textbook of Pediatric Dentistry" Second Edition, 1988, B.C. Decker Incorporated, Toronto.

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