Teething, weaning, using feeding bottles and comforting through non-nutritive sucking can raise questions and concerns for new parents. Your baby's mouth goes through a lot in the first year of life, and you'll naturally want to protect your baby's teeth and gums and encourage healthy development, so implementing good oral health practices is important from the beginning. Here are three tips for your baby's oral health:
Establish A Cleaning Routine Early
Most babies don't have any teeth for at least the first six months of their life, but once you start weaning your baby, you should establish a cleaning routine even if they don't have any teeth yet. You can gently wipe your baby's gums with a soft, damp cloth after they've eaten. This helps maintain gum health by removing food debris, which is a food source for bad bacteria. It also gets your baby accustomed to a cleaning routine early on, which can help them accept and enjoy having their teeth brushed. When your baby does get their first tooth, start brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled brush and toothpaste formulated for babies, which is mild and will prevent their mouth becoming irritated. Make brushing a relaxed, fun time for your baby by letting them have a go at brushing their teeth once you've brushed them.
Don't Risk Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Baby bottle tooth decay is the term used to describe decay that occurs in an infant's teeth as a result of being exposed to sweet liquids for prolonged periods. If your baby is breastfed to sleep or goes to sleep at night with a bottle of formula, sugar will be allowed to linger in their mouth and can cause decay. Bacteria feed on the sugar and release acid as a waste product, which damages your baby's tooth enamel, so it's important to give them their last breastfeed or bottle of formula for the day before brushing their teeth. If your baby is finding it difficult to adjust to not having a milk feed as a sleep aid, you can try giving them a bottle of water, which may still allow them to feel the comfort they get from sucking as they drift off to sleep.
Offer A Dummy In Place Of Thumb-Sucking
Non-nutritive sucking provides comfort to babies and sucking is a normal part of development. Using a dummy in the early days is unlikely to cause any issues for your baby's oral health, and the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry states using a dummy for comfort is preferable to sucking the thumb, as it's easier to wean your child off a dummy than their thumb. However, they also state it's best to discourage this after the age of three to prevent problems with jaw alignment and tooth positioning.
You can take your baby to the dentist for a check-up as early as you like. They can answer any specific questions you have about your child's oral health, and even if your child doesn't have any teeth, the dentist can check their gums and the overall condition of their mouth.