Baby Health Series – Baby Teeth

Teething is the bane of every mother’s existence. It causes pain, random and annoying symptoms (like nappy rash, excessive drooling and the worst, irritability), and we know at the end of it our baby’s get their new little toothy pegs. But if you’re like me, you might be a bit unsure about when to start brushing bub’s teeth, or when you might need to take them to the dentist. As part of this month’s Baby Health Series, I had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Lora of Corner 32 Dental Clinic, and she shares an AMAZING range of tips, tricks and advice to help your baby or toddler care for their teeth which will help them right up until their adult years. This is an amazing interview not to miss, so grab that cuppa and enjoy! x

Hi Lora! Thank you for joining us this week as a part of our Baby Health Series. Tonight we’ll be looking at baby’s dental/oral health and hygiene. Before we start, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your clinic?

Sure! Liz and I opened Corner 32 Dental in Putney almost 2 years ago. We have been friends for many years and in fact met at the very start of dental school. We always dreamed of opening a clinic together as our philosophies about health and prevention were always the same and it has been amazing to see our vision become a reality.

Corner 32 Dental is a vibrant, friendly and welcoming practice and our dental team places an emphasis on patient care and comfort to ensure every visit is a positive experience. We endeavour to make dental visits as stress free as possible, particularly for nervous or younger patients. 

As I already mentioned, preventative dentistry is particularly important to us, and we aim to maintain healthy smiles through regular care and patient education. We have all heard the saying that prevention is better than cure, and teeth are no exception. An adult’s teeth reflect the person’s dental history dating back to childhood. So it important to understand how we can implement good preventative techniques in our children in order to avoid dental problems in the future.

For new mums with young babies, could you tell us a bit about the development of baby teeth? When does it all start?

Teeth start to form even before you are born—milk teeth or baby teeth start to form when the baby is in the womb. Baby teeth are extremely important for the development of chewing and speech, as well as maintaining the space for the adult teeth until they’re ready to come through.

What are the signs us mums should be looking for with teething babies?

You can expect your child to start teething around six to twelve months, and it can take up to two and a half years for all the teeth to come through. This does vary from child to child and there is generally no need for concern if the teeth arrive very early or fairly late.

Although baby teeth can arrive in any order, in general the process starts with the two bottom front teeth, followed by the top two front teeth. This continues further back until all of the 20 baby teeth have come out.

Your child may feel discomfort as the teeth are coming through. Certain signs can include irritability/restlessness, placing objects or their own fingers in their mouth, dribbling/drooling, fussiness with foods, red cheeks/rashes and swollen gums. However, teething should not cause fever, diarrhoea, ear infections etc so if you see any of those signs, please see a doctor.

Temporary relief can be provided by giving the child something (preferably cold and/or firm) to chew on, soft foods to eat and gently rubbing the gums with a clean finger.

When should mums (and dads) look at cleaning their baby’s teeth? Is there a specific way they should be doing it? (For example, if/when should toothpaste be used?)

It is important to encourage babies/toddlers to get into a routine of regular brushing. This may be difficult at the start, but persist through it! Try to create a positive atmosphere around the brushing routine. Perhaps using a song or story could make it more fun.

Fun ideas for brushing time – Babies

Remember that brushing does not necessarily need to take place in the bathroom. Choose a setting where the child is most comfortable. This could even be in bed or on the changing table.

Fun ideas for brushing time – Toddlers

  1. Macleans Nurdle Time App. Download this app on your iPad to engage the child and encourage brushing.
  2. Play a favourite song with duration of approximately 2 mins from start to finish to indicate brushing time.

The best way to clean your baby’s teeth

  1. Place your baby in a position where you can see their mouth, and they feel secure.
  2. Cup your baby’s chin in your hands, with the head resting against your body.
  3. Clean the teeth using soft, circular motions.
  4. Lift the lips to brush the front and back of the teeth and at the gum line.

Once the baby/toddler is in a good brushing routine, they will be well equipped to look after their adult teeth when they start to erupt (6 year old molars and central incisors at around 6-7 years of age).

What kind of toothbrush is suitable?

Before there are any teeth in the mouth, it is important to clean a baby’s gums. Use a damp, wet cloth or piece of gauze wrapped around your finger, and wipe the gums clean.

Once teeth start to erupt, it may become more difficult to use a finger for brushing. At this stage, it is appropriate to switch to soft, small-headed toothbrush twice daily if tolerated.

As the child grows, it is appropriate to change to a more appropriately sized toothbrush head, however, it is recommended that the toothbrush head is always ‘small’ and bristles soft.

Toddles and young children who are interested in an electric toothbrush are encouraged to try. A small, round-headed, rechargeable electric toothbrush is ideal. Stay away from battery-operated electric toothbrushes if possible.

When to start using toothpaste and which is a good one to start with?

It is not recommended to use toothpaste until the child is 18 months old. Once the child is of age, a low-fluoride toothpaste can be introduced. A pea-sized amount of toothpaste should be applied to the toothbrush and should be spat out and not swallowed wherever possible.

Once the 6 year old molars have erupted, it is recommended to switch from a low-concentration fluoride toothpaste to an adult strength toothpaste.

Please note that toothpastes containing fluoride are always recommended. Herbal toothpastes are discouraged at any age.

When do you recommend babies start getting their teeth looked at by a dentist?

Early dental visits are crucial to helping the child grow accustomed to visiting the dentist and to pick up any problems early on.

At Corner 32 Dental, we recommend dental visits from age 2. However, if you notice any obvious issues in your child’s teeth such as discolouration, or crooked teeth, it is recommended to bring your child in at an earlier age for assessment.

Early dental visits mean it is possible to prevent minor problems from becoming major ones in the future. For many children the first dental visit is about becoming familiar with the dental setting and after that regular visits are ideal, usually every 6 months.

What does a dental check for babies/toddlers/children involve?

During your child’s visit, we will examine the teeth and make a record of what teeth are present and missing. Oral hygiene will be assessed and reinforced. An important part of the examination will involve searching for any signs of decay. Often, it is impossible to pick up areas of decay without x-rays, so x-rays may be taken on either side of the mouth (usually after the age of 8 but possibly earlier if there are signs of possible decay/holes). If the check up goes well and your child is comfortable, they will also be given a clean and leave the clinic plaque free!

Ideas on how to achieve a successful first dental visit:

  1. Have the child accompany you (mum or dad) to your dental visit
  2. Help children to accept that dental visits are part of a regular routine
  3. Make the child’s appointment for early in the day so that the child is not tired
  4. Arrive a little before the appointment time, to let the child become familiar with the new surroundings
  5. Talk to the child about the dental visit in a positive way, avoiding language such as ‘be brave’
  6. Explain to the child that the dentist will give them a ride in the chair and count their teeth
  7. Be a passive observer and allow the staff to capture the child’s full attention
  8. NOTE: It is not necessary to bribe children to see the dentist, nor for children or parents to feel anxious

After the 1st visit, we will recommend how regular visits should be (generally every 6 months).

What are your top tips for parents in regards to looking after their child/ren’s teeth?

Even though they are temporary, your child’s baby teeth are important, and are still susceptible to cavities. Tooth decay can occur when the baby is put to bed with a bottle, or when a bottle is used as a pacifier for a fussy baby. When bottle-feeding with infant formula or expressed breast milk, appropriate use of a bottle should be encouraged.

Recommendations include:

  1. Babies need to be bottle fed by an adult
  2. When feeding is complete, the bottle should be taken away
  3. The bottle should only contain breast milk or appropriate infant formula
  4. Do not dip pacifiers or bottle teats in sugar or honey
  5. A cup should be introduced from six months of age
  6. A bottle is not necessary after the age of 12 months
  7. Elimination of a bottle habit can be achieved by gradually reducing the amount of sugar in the bottle by diluting with water. This can be done over several weeks

Frequent consumption of sweet sticky foods can contribute to dental caries (decay). Foods and drinks containing added sugars should be limited, especially between meals. If consumed, they are best eaten at mealtimes.

Breast and cow’s milk, while they do not contain added sugars, are comprised of naturally occurring fermentable carbohydrates (sugars). This is why no milk should be consumed after brushing teeth at night time.

A healthy diet at home and school is important to prevent dental decay. Sugar filled, sticky foods and snacks should be kept to a minimum. Plenty of tap water should be consumed daily. Tap water contains small concentrations fluoride which has been proven to be preventative against decay with regular exposure.

Twice daily brushing is essential. Get your child used to this from an early age. A soft, small headed manual toothbrush or rechargeable electric toothbrush are recommended. Adult supervision to ensure adequate brushing is recommended up until 8yrs old. Once your child has mastered brushing, commence flossing, especially around any adult teeth.

Thank you for joining us in the Baby Health Series Lora! For more information on Corner 32 Dental Clinic, visit their website HERE, Facebook HERE and Instagram HERE.

Plus, don’t forget to grab your FREE New Mum Guide below – filled with expert tips and advice from expert sources on all things to do with baby (sleep, feeding, oral hygiene, play and development – plus some self-care tips for mum and a Colouring Page!) Don’t miss out!

About Fi Morrison

Fi is a mum to her beautiful, 1-year-old baby boy who she affectionately calls Starfish. She started Mumma Morrison as a way to document her life with her son, but also aims to create a supportive and encouraging community for new and prospective mums. She is returning to part-time teaching in July. Fi and her family live in Sydney.

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