Baby's First Tooth

Many parents don't realize it, but the oral health of a child begins at birth. For children, the chance for tooth decay or a healthy smile begins with their parents. For very young children, there are three basic ways to beat the risk for tooth decay and gingivitis (bleeding gums).

Mouth cleaning

Start right at birth. Simply use a water-dampened cloth to wipe your baby's gum pads, tongue and other soft tissues. Do this several times each day. Once teeth appear, continue mouth cleaning with a brush or a cloth -- a habit that is especially important before bed. Supervise mouth cleaning each day, but avoid fluoride toothpaste until baby molars appear.

Control bottle use

Know the difference between using the bottle for feeding and for keeping your baby or toddler "happy." Bottles should not be placed in the crib or bed. Tooth decay can happen with milk, juice, nutritional supplement or any liquid that has a "sugar" (read labels for fructose, glucose, lactose, etc). Fruit juices (even natural) have sugars that can harm the teeth.

Some parents use the bottle as a pacifier to help their child sleep even if they are aware of the danger it can cause to the teeth. To avoid tooth decay, it is best if children are weaned from the bottle by 12 months of age unless there is a medical reason. If you breastfeed your baby at will and especially if your baby sleeps with you and nurses at night, tooth decay can happen. You can consider transitioning your baby from the bottle to a sippy cup beginning at 6 months of age. If you feel the need to use the bottle in the crib or want to wean your baby from the bottle, here are three choices:

  • Throw away the bottle (if your child is able to drink from a cup).
  • Use only water for the crib bottle or the "outside-the-house" bottle.
  • Today, replace one ounce of the bottle liquid with water, tomorrow use 2 ounces of water, and on the third day use 3 ounces. By day four, an 8-ounce bottle will have half water and half milk (or juice, or whatever liquid you're diluting). Continue by replacing a half-ounce of water each day. This can take two to three weeks.

Monitor your own dental health

Parents, especially the primary caretaker, must know that if they themselves have tooth decay and bleeding gums, the germs that cause these mouth problems will be passed in their saliva to their children. This happens through normal activities of child care (such as sharing spoons, having a child put his hands to your mouth, kissing a child's hands, etc).

Thus, lack of daily mouth care for your child, overuse of bottles in the crib or breastfeeding at night without mouth cleaning afterward, and the presence of mouth problems in parents are primary concerns for oral problems in young children.

Good mouth care is an investment in your baby's health and future.