YOUR ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BABY TEETH
Dr. Sally Ing, our dentist mom here at Chapel Hill Dental, has put together a comprehensive guide that covers everything you need to know about baby teeth. Read on!
Raising a child is hard work ─ there are so many things to do and to think about!
As a parent, caring for your little one's teeth is yet another task that falls squarely on your shoulders. It's an important one, sure, but it's not a job that you've spent much time preparing for.
And now you're exhausted and you just want answers.
Does that sound like you? If so, I've got some good news! I've prepared a comprehensive guide that explains everything you need to know about taking care of your little one's teeth.
So grab yourself a coffee and let's get started!
WHEN TO EXPECT BABY TEETH
Did you know that baby teeth (also called primary teeth) actually start to form long before they erupt?
A newborn will have all of its baby teeth at birth, but they'll remain hidden under the gums until they grow big enough to become visible. That usually starts happening around the 6 month period.
For most kids, the central incisors ─ the two front teeth at the top and bottom ─ will be the first to arrive on the scene.
And you better have your camera ready when those ones come out. Because there's nothing more adorable than a baby that only has his or her front teeth!
The rest of the teeth ─ the lateral incisors, the canines, and the molars ─ will erupt more or less during the time periods indicated in our handy chart below. You can print this out and post it in your bathroom so you know what to expect!
DELAYED BABY TEETH: IT HAPPENS
Are your child's baby teeth not coming in on time?
Generally speaking delayed baby teeth aren't a cause for concern. Your child might not follow the above chart for any number of reasons, such as:
- Genetics: Yes, delayed teeth might just run in the family! Try to find out if your own baby teeth were late showing up, it could explain things
- Preemies: If your child was a premature baby there's a better chance that his or her teeth will come in late
- Low Vitamin D Intake: Dentin (what teeth are made of) needs Vitamin D to grow, so if your child is not getting enough Vitamin D then you can expect to see delays
When exactly should you start worrying about baby teeth not coming in?
I recommend that parents come see us if their child has yet to cut their first tooth by the age of 18 months. At that point we can take a closer look and help determine if there's reason for concern.
Imagine if your teeth were cutting through your gums for the first time. Not a pleasant thought is it?
Sadly, the odds are good that your little bundle of joy will experience teething pain. Not many of us escape it.
While the pain can be felt for any tooth, it's the molars that typically cause the most discomfort. Molars aren't sharp like the incisors, so they don't cut through the gums as easily. And they're also bigger so there's more tissue to get through.
If you've had any sort of tooth pain before, you know that the pain always seems to get worse at night.
Tooth pain feels stronger at night because of our increased awareness. During the daytime we're all preoccupied with other thoughts and tasks. But at night when we put our heads down we have fewer things to distract us from tooth pain.
And the same goes for kids. But don't fret, there are tricks you can use to help alleviate your tot's troubles.
TIP: Your child might show signs of a light fever during the more intense periods of teething. While this is common for many kids, you should nevertheless pay close attention to the symptoms and seek help if a fever worsens or persists longer than expected.
What To Try?
- Use a cold cloth to gently rub your child's gums, it could provide temporary relief
- Let your child bite into a chilled (but not frozen!) teething toy, or if you don't have one you can let them nibble on your clean fingers
- Use whatever tricks you need to help your baby fall asleep, even if it means breaking your bedtime routine a little, or else you both risk having a long and sleepless night
- Speak to your dentist, pharmacist, or family doctor about using over-the-counter medicine like infant Tylenol
What To Avoid?
- Resist the temptation of giving your little one a cube of ice to chew on, it might sound like a good idea but in fact ice is one of the top choking hazards for kids
- Do not use any medications not meant for children
- Avoid teething biscuits that contain sugar, as you might end up solving one problem by creating another (click here to learn more about cavities)
Teething pain should subside on its own within a few days. And when it does, be sure to take advantage of any extra rest you can get, because the next tooth eruption might be just around the corner.
CARING FOR BABY TEETH
I'll be the first to admit that brushing an infant's teeth can be a demanding task, never mind having to do it two or three times a day!
At first my little guy wanted nothing to do with his toothbrush, but as parents it's our responsibility to care for our baby's teeth.
In an ideal world, you would brush baby teeth just like you do your own. That means using circular motions, getting the front and back of each tooth, and going at it for a good two minutes.
If you're able to brush after each meal, that's even better, but aim to do it at least once in the morning and again before bed.
In reality, your child won't always cooperate. And that's OK. Do what you can, because brushing even a little bit is better than not brushing at all.
TIP: One trick that works for a lot of kids is to put the toothbrush down and use a clean wet cloth with a dab of children's toothpaste on it.
Your child might want to bite down on the cloth, which is OK too, as long as you take whatever opportunities you get to wipe down the teeth.
TIP: In my family, wiping our son's teeth with a cloth is part of the bath routine. If you do that, just make sure to use a fresh new cloth and clean water!
As for toothpaste, children who don't yet know how to spit should only be given fluoride-free toothpaste that's been made specifically for kids. The fluoride concentration in adult toothpaste is such that if swallowed in large enough quantities it can cause stomach aches or other more serious problems..
For kids, I recommend Tom's of Maine Toddler Training Toothpaste
As for toothpaste, children who don't yet know how to spit should only be given fluoride-free toothpaste that's been made specifically for kids. The fluoride concentration in adult toothpaste is such that if swallowed in large enough quantities it can cause stomach aches or other more serious problems.
For kids, I recommend Tom's of Maine Toddler Training Toothpaste
You should start flossing your child once the baby teeth have grown to the point that they touch each other. Which is probably somewhere around the 2 year mark.
Flossing is important because it keeps gum disease away. Children are just as susceptible as the rest of us to develop gingivitis.
TIP: Using those nifty plastic flossers is much easier than trying to get the job done with your regular string floss. We carry kids flossers in our SmileShop. But try not to let you little one bite down on the plastic, it could cause trauma to the teeth!
Once daily flossing, preferably before bed, is considered sufficient for a child who still has his or her baby teeth.
HOW TO PREVENT PACIFIER TEETH
Does your babe find comfort by sucking his or her thumb or using a pacifier? Or maybe letting them sleep with the bottle is the only way anyone gets a good night's rest in your house?
Soothers have their place and we certainly don't discourage their use, especially when it comes to newborns (babies under 6 months).
Sadly though, the overuse of soothers can have a negative impact on a child's developing teeth. You've probably heard of a condition called Pacifier Teeth, it's what happens when growing teeth are forced to adapt to the presence of an object in the mouth.
The most common effects of Pacifier Teeth are:
- Upper front teeth that tip forward or come in crooked
- Poor bite and jaw alignment, often times with the front teeth not clenching
- Changes to the shape of the roof of the mouth
Now don't worry just yet, Pacifier Teeth doesn't happen overnight. It's consistent, long-term soother use that presents risks. So as long as you limit the time your child spends with a soother, especially while sleeping, then you shouldn't see too many problems.
Generally speaking, it's recommended that children be weaned off of soothers completely (including thumb sucking) by the age of 2.
A HEALTHY DIET MAKES FOR HEALTHY TEETH
You've heard it a million times: eating good food, and avoiding bad food, is the secret to keeping your teeth nice and healthy.
For children with baby teeth, a good diet is even more important. That's because it's harder to fix baby teeth, not to mention how unpleasant it can be for everyone involved!
So which foods are best for your little one's teeth, and which foods should be avoided?
Great Food Choices
- Milk, Yogurt & Cheese: These dairy products are high in calcium and protein, so they can help strengthen your child's enamel
- Vegetables: Not only are they loaded with vitamins, but veggies like carrots and celery increase saliva production, and as mentioned here saliva is good because it helps wash away food and harmful bacteria before they can stick to the teeth
- Apples, Kiwis & Strawberries: These fruits are particularly good for baby teeth because they are fibrous, packed with vitamins, and in the case of kiwis and strawberries they contain loads of calcium to neutralize the damaging acids in your child's mouth
- Almonds: Another great source of calcium and protein, plain almonds are a perfect snack for kids
Foods To Eat In Moderation
- Candy, Juice & Soda: You guessed it, foods and drinks that are high in sugar promote the development of cavities, because when sugar mixes with the bacteria in the mouth it produces a harmful acid that erodes the enamel
- Acidic Foods: Lemons, oranges, grapefruits... they may be fruits, but their acidic content wears down the enamel
- Bread & Pasta: If you don't brush properly, carbohydrates left in the mouth can break down into simple sugars, which can make bread, pasta and even crackers just as harmful as eating candy
- Dried Fruits: Dried fruits like raisins and apricots are a delicious snack, but because they stick to the teeth it's best to eat them in moderation.
TIP: Drinking water helps wash away food and bacteria, so when you're on the go make sure to pack some for your children to have after each meal. Tap water is best because it contains added fluoride that helps remineralize the teeth.
SEEING THE DENTIST
The First Visit: When & Why?
According to the Canadian Dental Association, a child's first visit to the dentist should take place "within 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth or by one year of age."
There are a number of reasons why parents are encouraged to bring their kids in at such an early age.
First, as a healthcare provider it gives me the opportunity to discuss proper oral home-care with the parents and answer any questions they may have. I've noticed that first-time parents in particular relish this opportunity to talk things over, and I'm happy to provide information to them.
Second, assuming the child cooperates in the chair, taking a peek inside the mouth gives me a chance to verify that the teeth are coming in as expected. If I see any potential problems I can address them early on.
And third, the younger they start coming to the office, the quicker they get accustomed to the dentist's chair! One of my main goals for the first appointment is to provide your little one with a fun, stress-free experience. The last thing I want is for them to be afraid of coming back to see me!
TIP: Getting your child used to having their teeth and gums touched at an early age can help make future dental visits more enjoyable for everyone involved. Use a soft toothbrush or a washcloth to gently massage your baby's gums and teeth as they erupt.
How Often Do Kids Needs Checkups?
Like adults, the interval for check-ups depends on each child's specific needs. For the majority of kids with baby teeth, however, coming in to see us once every 9 months should be sufficient.
We should start seeing your kids
when they cut their first teeth
or by age 1