Even gummy grins need care to help prevent decay.
By the time your child is 5, more than 30 percent of her classmates will have tooth decay, which can be well advanced even by age 3. "Early preventive care is the key to keeping your baby cavity-free," says Elizabeth A. Shick, D.D.S., M.P.H., assistant professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Colorado, Denver School of Dental Medicine. Because the bacteria that cause cavities are transmitted to babies' mouths via the saliva of caregivers, parents and siblings, you should avoid sharing utensils and cups with your baby, and never "clean" a pacifier with your mouth. Before the first tooth erupts, wipe your baby's gums with a wet washcloth after every feeding.
First Dentist Visit Even breast milk and formula can lead to tooth decay, so take your baby to a pediatric dentist shortly after she gets her first tooth (usually around 6 months) and no later than her first birthday and then every six months afterward.
First Teeth Teething pain can begin long before the first tooth appears. You can alleviate it with teething rings, cold spoons or a cold wet washcloth or even a clean finger. If you choose to use a teething gel, follow the dosing instructions carefully, since it's a strong anesthetic, says Ann Greenwell, D.M.D., M.S.D., program director of postdoctoral pediatric dentistry at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry in Kentucky. Starting with the first tooth, begin a twice-daily brushing routine using a soft infant brush. (Forinnovative oral-care products, go to mambaby.com.)
First Foods "The same foods that make a healthy body will make healthy teeth," says Greenwell. Anything with excess sugar should be avoided, Greenwell says, so don't offer candy, juice drinks, soda, sugary cereals and fruity roll-ups, and limit even 100-percent fruit juice intake to 4-6 ounces every other day.
Are bottles bad for teeth? For a cavity to form, you need a tooth, bacteria, sugars or other carbohydrates and time, so never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle of breast milk, formula or juice in her mouth. And try to wean your baby from the bottle by her first birthday: "Research shows that giving a baby a bottle of anything other than water beyond age 1 is linked to a higher risk of developing cavities," says pediatric dentistry professor Elizabeth A. Shick, D.D.S., M.P.H.