It’s All About Baby Teeth
Your baby’s first teeth are just as important as their permanent teeth. These tiny teeth help your baby chew and speak and they hold space in the gums for the permanent teeth.
These ‘baby teeth’, or ‘primary teeth’ start forming inside the gums before birth, and usually erupt at around 6 months old, but they can erupt a lot earlier or later than this too. Usually by about 2-3 years of age, a toddler will have all 20 primary teeth.
Your baby’s first dental visit should be at about 12 months, so we can have a look at the tooth eruption progress, and check on oral hygiene, and diet, and answer any questions you might have. Even if we don’t get a look inside, this first visit is a very important one.
‘Teething’ refers to the eruption of baby teeth, which is usually accompanied by some degree of discomfort and irritability. Some signs and symptoms include:
- Frequent crying and crankiness
- A mild fever
- Reddened cheeks and drooling
- Mild diarrhoea
- Sucking or gnawing on toys or anything!
- Pulling the ear on the same side as the erupting tooth
To help relieve teething discomfort, some recommendations include:
- Wash your hands then gently rub baby’s gums with your finger
- Use a fridge chilled teething ring for baby to chew on or wet washcloth to bite
- Non-sweetened rusks
- NEVER give aspirin to a baby or child
- Speak to a pharmacist before using any pain relief medications for babies
What about thumb sucking?
Thumb sucking is a natural reflex in babies and toddlers, and most lose interest in it by the time they are 2 to 4 years old.
However, children who continue to suck their thumb or fingers after their permanent teeth have erupted can develop quite crooked teeth and even jaw development changes which can cause speech defects also.
Some suggestions to help stop thumb sucking include:
- Wrap strapping tape around the digit that is sucked
- Nail biting liquid
Are Dummies Any Better?
If dummies are allowed to be used into the permanent teeth stage, then they will have the same outcome as prolonged sucking of thumbs and fingers.
However, the best thing about a dummy is that it can be removed forever before 12 months ideally, and the todd
ler easily forgets about it in a few days. Even at 2 to 4 years old, a dummy can be ‘given to Santa’ or ‘given to the Easter Bunny’ or even ‘given to the rubbish truck!’ Then they are gone forever, and the toddler can then move on.
Good Habits for Life, Good Teeth for Life
Decay is just as much a risk in babies and toddlers as in children and adults, so caring for your baby’s teeth needs to begin at birth. To make sure your child has healthy teeth for life, make sure you establish good oral hygiene habits early.
How to Brush Your Baby’s Teeth
Baby’s very first teeth can be wiped with a cloth, or brushed with a special toothbrush for babies which has a very small head and rounded bristles to gently massage their teeth and gums. This should be done once a day until 18 months old, with no toothpaste, just fluoridated tap water. The bath is often a fun place for this.
Once your toddler is about 2 years old, twice a day brushing should be introduced, as well as special age appropriate low-fluoride toothpaste. Just a smear is all you need.
Only use toothpaste once your little one can spit out. Also make sure all toothpaste is stored out of reach of small children, as some love the taste, and will eat it. This will cause fluorosis in the secondary teeth which can be quite disfiguring.
Teaching Toddlers to Brush
Teaching toddlers to brush can be very challenging! Many are fiercely independent. But at about 4 to 5 years old, a team approach is often needed, combining the efforts of both you and your little one. Maybe your child ‘starts’ and you ’finish’, or maybe they brush in the morning and you brush each night. Children do not have the dexterity or skills to properly clean their own teeth until about 8 years of age.
Position yourself behind your child, facing the bathroom sink/mirror with their head tilted back onto your body so you can see into their mouth.
- Ensure you have an age appropriate sized toothbrush that is not too big
- Only a smear of toothpaste
- Brush gently from the gums onto the teeth always
- Avoid side to side scrubbing as it damages teeth and gums
- Start on the front surfaces at the back on one side, and slowly work around to the other side
- Then do the same on the inside surfaces by tilting the toothbrush
- Then do little circles across the chewing/grinding surfaces
- Now repeat for the other arch of teeth
- It helps to ask your child to let their lips ‘go floppy’, as children often tighten their mouth which makes brushing very difficult
- Brushing should take 2 minutes
Disclosing Pink Fun
Disclosing tablets or liquid are a fun way to help you see how you are going with your brushing technique. When you chew them, they stain plaque that is left on your teeth bright pink!
We use them to show our patients where plaque lurks. We also send them home with our patients so they can test themselves, and sometimes have competitions with their brothers and sisters and parents to see who cleans their teeth the best!
Your dentist or chemist will always have them.
When to start flossing?
As soon as your little one has 2 teeth together, they need to floss. However it is usually more practical to begin at about two and a half. Flossing is necessary because bacteria that cause tooth decay hide between teeth and cannot be brushed away, so must be removed by floss to avoid decay, and keep gums healthy.
- Flossing must be done gently or it will hurt.
- Floss up and down to the gum between all teeth.
- Try either conventional floss, or disposable flossers which are often easier.
Resistance to teeth cleaning? Struggling to sit still for 2 minutes or at all? Flossing….are you kidding!!
- Try an electric toothbrush. This adds a bit of fun, and some have music!
- Try in the bath and add distractions of other toys while you brush. It works!
- Sing nursery rhymes or play a favourite song while you help with brushing
- Offer a reward for every successful 2 minute brushing session
- Let your child ‘start’ the brushing and you ‘finish’ it
- Try to make brushing and flossing as much fun as possible, and avoid any negative association
- Set a good example and brush your teeth with them