As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. So, give your baby’s teeth the best possible chance and follow these tips for preventing dental problems:
- Visit the dentist
Take babies for a dental check-up during their first year. This gives your dentist a chance to spot any potential problems and advise you about how to protect your child’s teeth. Familiarising babies with their dental practice will also help to prevent any anxiety about future vists.
- Start brushing
Dentists recommend that you start cleaning babies’ teeth with an infant toothbrush twice daily as soon as their first tooth begins to emerge. Starting early gets babies accustomed to brushing, thereby avoiding problems later on. Check fluoride levels when choosing an infant toothpaste; under-threes need low-fluoride toothpaste with 1000ppm of fluoride. Your dentist or hygienist will be able to show you how best to brush your baby's teeth.
- Bedtime brushing
Take particular care when cleaning teeth at bedtime. Saliva production decreases at night so its rinsing action is reduced and harmful bacteria in the mouth can settle more easily upon teeth.
- Daytime drinks
Squashes, flavoured milk and juice drinks should never be given to babies. If your baby is bottle-fed, only give him/her formulated baby milk or water. Water is always the best option when babies need extra fluids in addition to their milk feeds.
- Night-time drinks
Never put a baby to bed with a bottle of juice or milk. The natural bacteria in your baby's mouth reacts with both the lactose within milk and the fructose within fruit juice to form acids that can damage tooth enamel. Drinking from a bottle increases the likelihood of decay since it lets the liquid ‘pool’ around the teeth for long periods of time.
- Bottles and beakers
Give your baby drinks from a beaker from six months and discourage your baby from drinking from a bottle once they've reached twelve months. Don’t let your child use bottle teats as pacifiers.
If your child sucks on a dummy for long periods it may cause problems with the development of their teeth, possibly requiring corrective treatment later on. Never dip dummies into sweet substances, e.g. juices, honey and syrups.
When your baby starts eating solids, promote savoury choices like vegetables, cheese and pasta. If you serve ready-made foods, check the labels and choose ‘sugar-free’ foods or those with no added sugars or sweeteners. Remember that sugar comes in many forms - look out for names like glucose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, fructose and hydrolysed starch. Limit sugary foods to mealtimes, even if it’s a healthy option like dried fruit which is high in sugar and sticks to teeth.
Resist the temptation to sweeten baby food. Babies aren’t born with a sweet tooth - it’s something that they learn when they’re given sweet foods regularly. Mashed banana, formula milk or breast milk can be used to sweeten food if it’s really necessary.
If you need to give your baby oral medication, do it before brushing. Most oral medications for infants contain sucrose so choose sugar-free varieties wherever possible.