Dental Care for Your Infant and Toddler
Beginning dental care early is important for your child's health and to keep teeth healthy for a lifetime. Healthy baby teeth help children eat and speak clearly. Baby teeth guide permanent adult teeth into the proper position. Some baby teeth are not replaced by permanent teeth until the age of 12 or 13. Dental care includes cleaning your baby's gums before the teeth come into the mouth.
What is early childhood tooth decay?
Early childhood tooth decay refers to the development of cavities in infants and pre-schoolers. Tooth decay is caused by a combination of factors including the bacteria that normally reside in the mouth. Bacteria can be passed to your baby from other family members through saliva. If family members have healthy teeth, they are less likely to transmit cavity causing bacteria to the baby.
You can reduce the chance of passing cavity causing bacteria to your baby. Do not share toothbrushes, lick soothers to clean them, and avoid feeding your baby with the same spoon that has been in your mouth.
How can tooth decay be prevented?
Good dental care includes cleaning and checking your child's teeth and mouth every day. Lift the lip so you can see along the gum line when cleaning and look for white or brown spots which may be early signs of tooth decay.
Gently clean your baby's mouth using a soft baby toothbrush or wet face cloth. When teeth start to come in, use a toothbrush with a smear of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. Brush your child's teeth in the morning and especially at bedtime.
Once your child turns 3, brush your child's teeth using a “pea-sized” amount of fluoride toothpaste on a soft child's toothbrush.
When will my child get teeth?
Children have their own schedule for teething. Most children begin teething at about 6 months of age. Your child should have all of their first set of teeth—or “baby” teeth—by 3 years of age. The bottom front teeth usually appear first, followed by the top front teeth. In total, 20 teeth should appear—10 in the top jaw and 10 in the bottom jaw.
|Key||Upper||When Teeth Come In
|When Teeth Fall Out
|1||central incisors||7 to 12||6 to 8|
|2||lateral incisors||9 to 13||7 to 8|
|3||canines (cuspids)||16 to 22||10 to 12|
|4||first molars||13 to 19||9 to 11|
|5||second molars||25 to 33||10 to 12|
|Key||Lower||When Teeth Come In
|When Teeth Fall Out
|6||second molars||20 to 31||10 to 12|
|7||first molars||12 to 18||9 to 11|
|8||canines (cuspids)||16 to 23||9 to 12|
|9||lateral incisors||7 to 16||7 to 8|
|10||central incisors||6 to 10||6 to 8|
Note: Tooth development can vary and this chart provides a general guide only. In most cases, infants have some teeth by their first birthday, while most kids have lost all their baby teeth by the time they go to high school. If you have any questions or concerns about the development of your child's teeth, speak to your dentist or pediatric dentist.
How can I comfort my baby when they are teething?
Teething may cause some discomfort, making your baby fussy. Your baby may feel better if allowed to chew on a clean, chilled teething ring, teething toy, or clean wet face cloth. Teething cookies or biscuits are not a good choice because these can stick to your baby's teeth and cause tooth decay.
Check with your doctor, dentist or health care provider before using teething ointments, gels or tablets, or any other teething items.
Teething does not cause fevers. If your baby has a fever or diarrhea while teething, treat it as you would at any other time. If you have any questions or concerns about your baby's fever or diarrhea, call 8-1-1 to speak with a registered nurse, or contact your health care provider.
Can the food my child eats cause tooth decay?
Eating sugary foods or drinks or eating snacks all day long may increase the risk of tooth decay.
Cavity causing bacteria in the mouth break down starches and sugars in foods which produces acid that cause tooth decay. Fruit juice, sweetened tea, soft drinks, all types of milk, and formula contain sugars that can cause tooth decay if in contact with teeth for long periods of time. Tooth decay can develop when a child uses a bottle with these liquids for long periods, especially during rest or sleep times. Your child is also at increased risk for tooth decay if they continually sip anything other than plain water from a bottle, drink box, or sippy cup.
Water will not harm the teeth. Water is a good choice between regular feeding times and for thirst. Introduce your baby to using a cup between 6 and 9 months of age.
What about soothers or pacifiers?
Soothers or pacifiers are sometimes given to babies during rest, sleep or other times. If you choose to give your baby a soother, here are a few tips:
- ensure that breastfeeding is well established;
- choose the right size soother for your baby's mouth;
- check the soother nipple often—throw it away if it is sticky, cracked or torn;
- keep the soother clean;
- avoid dipping the soother in honey or other sweet substances that can cause tooth decay; and
- by age 1 or 2, if a soother is used, limit use to nap time or bedtime.
Soothers or pacifiers are not recommended once all baby teeth have grown in, usually when your child is about 3 years old. After this age, regular use of a soother may affect the child's speech and language development. Parents can start to “wean” children off the soother as soon as possible.
Can fluoride help stop tooth decay?
The Canadian Dental and Medical Associations and the dental professionals of British Columbia recommend fluoride for preventing tooth decay for people of all ages. Fluoride is a proven, effective and low-cost way to prevent cavities. Fluoride helps make tooth enamel stronger and better able to resist tooth decay. Most children will get enough fluoride from using a small amount of fluoride toothpaste twice a day. Some toothpastes do not have fluoride. Always check the label.
Your dentist may recommend additional fluoride for your child.
In B.C., there is little natural fluoride and few cities add fluoride to the drinking water. If you are unsure if your water supply contains fluoride, call your local public health unit. For more information on water fluoridation, see HealthLinkBC File #28 Water Fluoridation Facts.
When should my child go to the dentist?
The Canadian Dental Association recommends regular dental visits starting 6 months after your child's first tooth appears or when they are about 1 year old. Your child's first dental visit is a good time to discuss daily dental care, fluoride, and eating habits. If you have a concern about your infant's or toddler's teeth, make an appointment to see your dentist or a dental professional.
For more information
Children in families who receive income assistance or MSP premium assistance are eligible for basic dental care through the Healthy Kids Program. For more information, call 1-866-866-0800 or visit the website at www.mhr.gov.bc.ca/factsheets/2005/healthy_kids.htm.
For more information on dental care, please contact the dental program at your public health unit, your dentist or dental hygienist.