February Parenting Tip of the Month
Keeping Baby Teeth Healthy
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! This month-long observance promotes the benefits of good oral health care for children. Our teeth are important for eating and speaking. They are also important for our self-confidence. People with healthy teeth have a confident smile that helps them in social settings like school, work and meeting new people.

The ability to have healthy teeth begins with our first set of teeth. Babies are born with 20 teeth below the gums. The first tooth begins to appear between 6 months and 1 year. The remaining teeth should appear by the age of 3. First teeth, also known as baby teeth, are important because they serve as spacers for the permanent teeth by maintaining the correct amount of space and alignment. Losing a baby tooth too early can cause permanent teeth to come in crooked or crowded.   

The main way to care for our teeth is by brushing and limiting the amount of sugar we consume. For infants and toddlers, tooth decay is often referred to as “baby bottle tooth decay.” The decay often occurs in the upper front teeth. It is most commonly caused by frequent and prolonged exposure to drinks that contain sugar, including formula, milk and juice. Tooth decay is caused when bacteria in the mouth changes the sugar found in food and liquids into acid that attacks the teeth.
Infants and young children are dependent on parents and caregivers to take care of their teeth and to help them develop healthy habits. Here are some recommendations to keep your child’s teeth healthy:
  • Wipe your infant’s gums with a clean wet gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding to remove sugar and food.
  • From the time the first tooth appears until the age of 3, you should use a soft-bristled child-size toothbrush and a smear (the size of a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste to clean your child’s teeth twice a day.
  • Have your infant finish their bottle before going to bed so that they will not fall asleep with a bottle.
  • Do not use the bottle as a pacifier. Offer your child a clean pacifier that has not been dipped in sugar or honey. 
  • Introduce a sippy cup or training cup when your child begins to sit up. Offer milk or juice during mealtimes and snack times; however, only offer water between mealtimes. The act of chewing during meals will increase saliva, which helps to wash away the sugar from juice or food on the teeth.
  • Do not share your saliva with your child by sharing spoons or licking pacifiers.
  • Do not offer juice to children under the age of 1. Limit juice for older children because it may contain as much sugar as soda. For more information on juice and how to limit sugar in your child’s diet, click here.
  • Schedule a dental appointment by your child’s first birthday.
  • For children ages 3 to 6, brush the teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste twice a day and encourage them to spit out the toothpaste.
  • Supervise your child’s brushing to make sure they brush their teeth thoroughly and use the appropriate amount of toothpaste until they are 6 or 7 years old.
  • Offer snacks low in sugar like fresh fruits, vegetables and cheese. Limit sticky foods like raisins, granola bars and fruit roll ups. Click here for more ideas on healthy snacks to offer your children.

By taking care of your child’s baby teeth while they are young, you will help them develop healthy habits and have a confident smile for years to come.

For additional information on maintaining healthy baby teeth, visit the American Dental Association’s Mouth Healthy website at https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids/healthy-habits.
American Dental Association’s Mouth Healthy, https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids