Habits acquired early in life go a long way in shaping us, and oral hygiene is no exception. Oral hygiene practices responsible for healthy gums, teeth and mouth should start early – right before baby teeth erupt.
Think it’s too early to consider brushing your baby’s teeth? Think again! While baby teeth are normally replaced by permanent ones eventually, these infant's teeth are just as important. They reserve the space where permanent teeth erupt later. Failure to care for them may lead to their decay, which can cause inflammation of the gums otherwise called gingivitis. This infection can affect the permanent teeth that come in later by damaging their spacing.
But let’s face it: maintaining toddler tooth hygiene can be easier said than done – often because your bundle of joy can find brushing rather frightening or uncomfortable. Many millennial moms and dads—even dentists—struggle to keep their children’s teeth and mouths clean.
As a parent, you may have more in common with your dentist than you think. And developing and inculcating proper brushing habits in your baby do not have to be difficult, not for you nor your little one.
If you’re not sure when or how to get started, you will find it a lot easier to start with some helpful tips. Here are six.
1. Start cleaning your baby’s mouth before teeth come in
Your baby will normally show signs of irritability, restlessness or fussiness anywhere between the age of 3 and 9 months as his primary teeth begin to erupt. The infant may experience swollen gums and pain at this stage. He needs your help. Gently massaging the gums with a clean fingertip will go a long way in alleviating the teething pain.
You’ll also need to provide the little one with a teething ring to chew on. You can’t massage their gums all the time, but the teething ring will provide the needed relief at times when you’re not massaging them. The baby tends to feel better when chewing on such objects as washcloths and soft rubbery items especially when they’re cold. Be sure to watch them out so they don’t hurt or chock themselves with hard or breaking objects.
It’s important that you don’t wait for the teeth to show; start cleaning your baby’s gums with a wet gauze or an infant toothbrush every after feeding and also at bedtime. A wet washcloth wrapped around your finger is also suitable for cleaning the gums.
Once the much-desired baby teeth begin to show, it’s time to start taking care of them. Proper dental hygiene right off the bat can prevent the possible buildup of bacteria and formation of plaque. This will go a long way in ensuring the kid’s oral and overall health.
You can almost be certain that your kid won’t like tooth brushing at first. They may find it unpleasant and resist it, getting the toothpaste all over.
If your baby gets used to the routine of brushing teeth from their infancy, you can be sure to have fewer battles on the same at later stages.
2. Use the right baby tooth cleaning tools
There are baby toothbrushes designed for use to clean babies’ gums and teeth. These are soft and brittle, and friendly to the tender tissue in a baby’s mouth. The brushes also have shorter handles for easy navigation on a baby’s generally smaller mouth. Baby toothbrushes also normally have special handles that are safe for the baby to handle himself.
Like for adults, you should routinely replace your baby’s toothbrush after every three months, or following a sickness event with contagious ailment such as flu.
Remember to use baby-friendly toothpaste. Different brands have toothpaste options specially designed for kids aged between 0 and 2 years old. This is extremely important because babies won’t always spit out the paste after brushing teeth. The child-friendly toothpaste options do not contain fluoride, preservatives or artificial colors; rendering them safe for the kid to swallow.
Notice that your baby still needs enough supply of fluoride even though he does not use a fluoride toothpaste. The mineral helps with preventing tooth decay, which explains why most communal, public or tap water supplies contain it. Fluoride is normally added to tap water to help prevent tooth decay. It’s important therefore to talk to your dentist about suitable fluoride supplements if your baby is not drinking tap water.
3. Keep an eye out for initial signs of cavities while brushing
While brushing, you may notice some discoloration on the baby’s teeth. These can result from any number of causes, sugars being a major culprit. It’s important to cut down on your baby’s intake of sugar to reduce chances of tooth decay. If you spot any form of discoloration or pitting in the baby teeth, ensure you visit a dentist immediately.
Daily intake of sweets may double your child’s risk of tooth decay. Sugary foods like candy and sugary juices expose adult teeth to equally high risk of damage. For babies, the risk comes from the bottled milk and acidic food items such as fruit juices, soda and other carbonated drinks.
Such acidic drinks are harmful to your baby’s teeth. One way to make juice safer for his teeth is to dilute it with water in the ration of 1 to 10.
More importantly, you should avoid keeping your baby’s teeth exposed to the sugary foods for extended periods of time. Do not leave the infant with a bottle of milk or juice for long periods of time as this is a notorious cause of baby tooth decay.
4. Brush twice a day with a small smear of baby toothpaste
Babies hardly know how to spit toothpaste once they’ve used it. You can expect them to nearly always swallow some of it. That’s why it’s recommended to use only a small amount of toothpaste.
Regular toothpastes also contain additives that are potentially unsafe when accidentally swallowed. So, you should avoid using the regular fluoride toothpastes when brushing baby teeth.
Brush two times every day to reduce chances for accumulation of bacteria and plaque. Brushing should take approximately two minutes, every morning after he takes breakfast and later in the day, preferably at bedtime.
Use small circular motions in brushing the baby’s teeth. Gently move the toothbrush over the teeth in back and forth strokes, and work your way through the tongue and gums to completely clean the mouth.
You may also consider flossing his teeth after brushing if there are two or more teeth together. This will not only help remove food particles trapped between the teeth, but also teach your kit to develop the habit of flossing.
5. Brush in front of a mirror to let your baby imitate you
Kids love to imitate what adults do – that includes brushing teeth. What better way to show your kid how to brush than by reflecting the activity on a mirror?
Brushing can be really messy when your baby does not like it. Reflecting the technique on a mirror will be an effective way to teach the young one to adapt it and want to do it himself.
There are two ways to go about it. One, you could stand behind your baby as you brush his teeth and let him look in the mirror (with both of you looking into the mirror). He will slowly master the technique of brushing and get in the habit of brushing their teeth on their own – because kids are generally kinesthetic.
Alternatively, you could sometimes let him have the toothbrush while you’re brushing your own teeth. Looking at what you’re doing directly or from your reflection in the mirror, the baby will mimic you.
They may not do much of a job themselves, but they’ll certainly get used to the idea of toothbrushing. This subliminal message can be quite effective in inculcating good oral hygiene in kids. Notice that you have to help them with tooth brushing until they are six years or older.
6. Make toothbrushing a fun experience for your baby to enjoy it
Kids love fun things. Make tooth brushing fun and it will soon be a breeze to brush their teeth. They’ll start enjoying it instead of resisting it. Wear a positive mood every time you’re brushing their teeth by smiling and playing with them all the way.
You may also allow the kid to choose their own toothbrush by going along with them to the store buy one. They’ll have the liberty to pick their favorite color and design, and will naturally feel a sense of ownership to it.
There are lots of new kids’ toothbrushes with cartoons and some of kids’ favorite comic book characters printed all over. It would be great to get him some of these.
When it’s time to brush, let him feel in control by allowing him to grip the toothbrush. They’ll feel more confident and find it enjoyable. It won’t be long before you and your baby both look forward to brushing teeth.
So, ready for your first baby tooth brushing experience as a proficient millennial mom? Equipped with these tips, you certainly have no reason not to be.