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8 Great Dental Health Tips for Your Baby or Young Child

Your baby can have good dental health with your help.

If you’re a parent or caregiver, one of your top concerns will certainly be your baby’s or child’s health. Dental health is an important part of that! Good dental health starts before the first tooth arrives, and there are many ways you can promote it while helping your child build good habits to last a lifetime. Here are eight of the best things you can do.

Care for your baby’s gums before any teeth arrive

There’s an easy way to get your baby ready for the toothbrushing you’ll introduce when her first teeth finally arrive. Starting in her infancy, use a moistened piece of gauze or a soft wet washcloth to gently wipe her gums twice each day. After feedings and before bedtime are especially good times to do this. Cleaning this way will help reduce bacteria and plaque on the gums.

Wean your baby off the pacifier by age 1

Between birth and age 6, 90% of young children’s facial development takes place. But habitual sucking on a pacifier can negatively affect developing jaws, which could cause problems with young children’s breathing, sleep, and even behavior. If your baby uses a pacifier, stop using it by her first birthday.

Follow a best practice: Avoid bedtime bottles

The sugar in milk and juice can remain in your baby’s mouth overnight and can affect her developing teeth, possibly causing cavities. If your baby drinks from a bottle, have her finish it before bed. If she takes the bottle to bed, fill it only with water.

Schedule your baby’s first dental appointment by age 1

Before your child is a year old, he should visit the dentist for the first time. At Winchester Dental, we treat each of our young patients according to their individual needs and comfort level, and we’ll take special care of your child. The first visit frequently includes gentle cleaning and polishing by one of our hygienists. One of our dentists will evaluate your child’s craniofacial development and make recommendations for next steps, if needed. You can read more about our pediatric dentistry services here.

Teach your baby to use a regular cup by age 18 months

A sippy cup can help your young child transition away from breastfeeding or bottle feeding, but we recommend avoiding sippy cups with a “beak” or pointed spout, and also avoiding straws. Both can interfere with the motor function of the tongue.

If your child does use a sippy cup, it’s best to stop using it by age 18 months. Learning to use a regular cup will help a young child to develop the mature swallowing pattern needed for proper facial development, while prolonged usage of a sippy cup could hinder this process.

Start brushing as soon as the first tooth arrives

Choose a baby toothbrush with soft bristles, and gently brush your child’s teeth. Between ages 4 months and 2 or 3 years old  (whenever your child learns to spit), use a non-fluoride toothpaste. You don’t need much; an amount about the size of a grain of rice is enough at this age. This will keep your baby from becoming sick if he swallows it. Once he learns to spit, you can switch to a fluoride toothpaste, and increase the amount to the size of a pea after age 3.

Start flossing as soon as your child has teeth that touch each other

By about age 18 months, most children have teeth that touch each other, and it’s a good time to begin flossing. Take your time and allow your child to relax in a comfortable position, and gently clean between the teeth with children’s dental flossers or regular dental floss. 

Read Dr. Donna Greco’s interview on how you can help your child have a healthy mouth.

Help your child break the thumb-sucking habit

“If your child is past 18 months old and still sucking a pacifier or thumb (i.e., for non-nutritive reasons), this is usually cause for concern,” says Dr. Greco. Similar to the effects of continuing to use a pacifier past the age of 18 months, thumb-sucking at this age can prevent a child from developing a mature swallowing pattern, and can interfere with proper facial and jaw development. 

For children between the ages of 1½ and 2½ who still suck their thumbs or fingers, Dr. Greco’s advice is to gently remind them to stop. If the habit persists past age 2½, tell your dentist, who may recommend a special oral appliance to help your child stop.

Is it time for your child’s next dental visit? Schedule it today!

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