Caring for your Infant's Teeth

Your child's first set of teeth, the primary teeth, are extremely important . Strong, healthy primary teeth help your child chew food easily, learn to speak clearly and look good. Primary teeth also hold the spaces for the permanent teeth to come into good position. Your child's general health can be affected if diseased or broken primary teeth are not treated early.

The foundation for a good set of teeth begins with good general health in the expectant mother. This includes good oral health because a mother or caregiver can transmit bacteria - responsible for dental disease - to her infant. This usually occurs through sharing of food or eating utensils.

Healthy primary teeth
A healthy set of primary teeth

Teething

The first primary tooth usually erupts at the age of 6 months. However, this can vary, and it is not unusual to find some children who do not have a single primary tooth until the age of 10 months and onwards. By age three, all primary teeth are present in the mouth.

When teething, your child may drool more and be more irritable. He/she may experience mild discomfort in the gums. Teething rings can help the teeth to cut through and alleviate the need to bite on things.


In severe cases of discomfort, teething balms can be applied over the gum; however, be aware that some of these contain sugar which may increase the risk of dental decay.

Oral Hygiene

You should clean your infant's tooth the moment it erupts into the mouth. Use a clean towel and water to wipe the teeth after every feed.

When the back teeth have erupted, you can use a toothbrush. When the child can spit (usually around 2 years old), you can use a pea-sized amount of children's fluoride toothpaste. Children's toothpaste contains less fluoride.

Feeding Practices

1) Avoid letting your infant go to sleep with a bottle of milk, juice or sweetened liquids. Also, demand breastfeeding - allowing the infant to fall asleep at your breast - is not recommended. Such practices may increase your child's risk of developing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, a severe form of decay.

The frequency of such practices, the type of liquid in the bottle and the standard of oral cleanliness in both child and caregiver are important factors when determining the risk of developing this decay.

2) Wean the infant from the milk bottle by age 1.

3) Teach him to use a training cup.

Oral Habits

The first year of life is the oral phase. An infant would explore by putting things into his/her mouth. This includes sucking on digits or pacifiers.

Prolonged use of pacifiers or thumb-sucking can result in misaligned anterior teeth (i.e. an open bite). Early discontinuation of the habit will result in spontaneous correction.

Open bite in teeth
Open bite due to pacifier use

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