ASK AN EXPERT: Caring For Baby and Toddler Teeth

Ursula Tumath, RDH, MS

Ursula Tumath, RDH, MS

This month's Ask The Expert chat is all about caring for little one's teeth from birth on up! Ursula Tumath, RDH, MS, is currently the President of the San Francisco Dental Hygiene Society. She's also a San Francisco native who has been working as a dental hygienist for 4 years and mama to 18 month old Callie! I peppered Ursula with questions about what to do with our babies teeth and she offered some excellent guidance. Read on!

At what age do I need to start caring for my child's teeth? How should I do it? 

It is suggested that starting from birth, you should wipe your child's gums with a damp cloth to get them used to having something in their mouth, and to make it apart of your normal daily routine. It may be easiest to remember to do it once the child is done with a feeding (whether it be from breast, bottle, or solids!) Once the teeth erupt, use a small toothbrush with fluoridated toothpaste, and brush the child's teeth 2 times per day (AM and PM). For children under the age of 2 use a smear of fluoridated toothpaste on the toothbrush. It's also important to start flossing at a young age. 

Is there a difference between caring for baby's teeth if they are breastfed or formula fed?

Nope! Teeth are teeth. It is suggested that children should be put to sleep with a bottle of water. Make sure you brush and floss the teeth 2 times per day.

What kinds of toothbrushes and toothpastes should I use for my kids?

The type of toothbrush is going to depend on the age and size of the child. There are many different sizes, colors, and varieties. The best would be a soft-bristled small head toothbrush made especially for infants or young children.

The current recommendation for toothpaste is to use a fluoridated toothpaste, even if your water supply is fluoridated. For kids 2 and under, use a smear of toothpaste. For children 3 and above use a pea-sized amount. 

What is the biggest myth about caring for children's teeth?

That baby teeth fall out so you don't have to worry about taking care of them! This is completely FALSE. The baby teeth set the stage for the adult teeth that start to come in around the age of 6. If there is a deep cavity or infection in a baby tooth, it can affect the development of the adult tooth, and sometimes the cavity can transfer to the adult tooth growing in. 

When should my child first see a dentist? What should I expect at that visit?

The first dentist visit should be scheduled around the time the first teeth appear, and no later than the first birthday. This appointment is important to count the number of teeth, make sure the teeth are growing in correctly, and to receive oral hygiene such as brushing and flossing. You can go to a general or pediatric dentist. If you like your dentist don't be afraid to ask them if they ever see children. 

Anything else we've missed?

There are some great resources online that can answer some basic questions for parents. One I really like was created for parents by the Academy of American Pediatric Dentists. It's a great resource to find pediatric dentists in your area.

Another important area is the transmission of bacteria (especially S Mutans) from the mouth of the primary caregiver/mother to the baby. Caries (cavities) are caused by S Mutans, so if a caregiver has that type of bacteria, the chances of it being passed to the child are high. It is suggested that you don't share anything with baby, such as utensils, and never rinse off a pacifier in your own mouth. 

Research has shown that breastfed infants suckling on the breast influences the development of tongue-thrust and mandible development, which can positively effect the oral development of the child. 

If you are ever in doubt about your child's teeth please call your dentist.