Many children are starting kindergarten with tooth decay. Key findings from an oral health assessment in 2019 show nearly half the kindergarteners in Orange County have experienced tooth decay. More than half of the third graders that had an assessment showed previous or current tooth decay. Untreated cavities can cause pain, infection and swelling, impact school readiness and performance, and affect nutrition, sleep, and overall well-being (OC Oral Health Strategic Plan).

February is Children’s Dental Health Month. Preventing cavities starts before your baby’s first tooth appears. It can begin even before your baby is born. Get an early start on your baby’s dental care. Practicing good dental care at an early age can help reduce cavities in infants and children. Help them have strong and healthy teeth before they are ready to start school. Read more to learn about dental care practices that can help you prepare your baby for strong and healthy teeth!

Dental care during pregnancy.

The benefits of good dental health begin before your baby is born. Taking care of your health is always important. It becomes essential during pregnancy. Keeping your teeth and gums healthy is one step to keeping yourself healthy. It is also an important part of keeping your future baby healthy.

Get an early start by taking good care of your dental health. Practice daily dental care to keep a healthy mouth during your pregnancy:

  • Brush thoroughly twice a day for 2 minutes. Use a fluoride toothpaste with the seal of acceptance from the ADA to help protect tooth enamel.
  • Floss between your teeth at least once a day. Flossing can help prevent cavities and gum disease.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Healthy food choices can help you get the nutrient you need for a healthy pregnancy.
  • See your dentist. Dental visits during pregnancy, no matter the trimester, are safe and important for your dental health. When you are pregnant, you may be more prone to gum disease and cavities, which can affect your baby’s health.

Dental care for your baby.

Babies need oral hygiene care. It is important to clean their gums daily to wipe away any buildup of germs and bacteria. After each feeding, wet a clean washcloth or gauze with water, wrap it around your index finger, and gently wipe across the outside and inside of both the upper and lower gums.

As your infant becomes a toddler, start a dental clean routine to help prevent tooth decay.

  • Brush their teeth twice a day, in the morning and before going to bed with a soft, child size toothbrush. Use a small amount of toothpaste that does not have fluoride in it. This type of toothpaste is safe if your child swallows it. Once the child does not swallow the toothpaste, it is safe to use a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste.
  • Floss daily when your child has two teeth that touch.
  • Help your child brush their teeth until about seven (7) years old.

Avoid kissing the baby on the mouth, or sharing a spoon when tasting baby food or cleaning a pacifier with your mouth. Cavity-causing bacteria can be passed from the mother (or primary caregiver) to the infant. If your child uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean. Do not dip pacifiers in sugar or honey. (ADA).

Proper infant feeding practices is key for healthy and strong teeth.

A leading cause of tooth decay among infants is known as “baby bottle syndrome.” This occurs when an infant is allowed to drink from a baby bottle containing formula, milk or fruit juice during naptime or at night. Often the baby falls asleep with the bottle in his or her mouth. This allows a baby’s teeth to be exposed to the sugar in these liquids, causing stains and tooth decay. Tooth decay can also occur when a baby falls asleep while breastfeeding, since breastmilk contains sugar. Try giving your baby a bottle filled with water at bedtime or during a nap (Delta Dental). Encourage your baby to drink from cup by their first birthday.

At around 4 to 6 months, your infant’s doctor may recommend introducing solid foods. When starting solid foods, limit foods high in sugar for their dental and overall health. This may be a great time to ask your baby’s doctor about healthy infant food choices.

Your baby’s first dental check-up.

Your child’s first dental visit should take place after that first tooth appears, but no later than the first birthday. As soon as your baby has teeth, he or she can get cavities. A dental visit by your baby’s first birthday can allow the dentist to find any signs of dental problems early. Click here for what to expect from your baby’s first check up from Mouth Healthy.

Additional resources to help you prepare your baby for strong and healthy teeth.

Why baby teeth matter. Mouth Healthy provides helpful information why your baby’s first teeth are important for health and development.

Infancy (0-11 months). Smile Habits OC has dental care tips and resources to help you prepare your baby for a healthy lifelong smile.

Healthy Dental Habits for Babies. Learn how to prevent tooth decay in your baby from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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