How To Care For Your Baby's Gums & Emerging Teeth!

Should I start cleaning my baby's gums even before his teeth come in?

Yes. Even before your baby sports his first tooth, it's a good idea to get into the habit of wiping his gums with gauze or a soft wet washcloth during bath time. You don't need to use any toothpaste yet. Simply wrap the cloth or gauze around your index finger and rub it gently over the gums.

Bacteria in the mouth usually can't harm the gums before the teeth emerge, but it can be hard to tell when the teeth are starting to push through, so you'll want to start early. Getting your baby used to having his mouth cleaned as part of his daily routine should make it easier to transition into toothbrushing later on.

What's the best way to brush my baby's teeth after they start coming in?

As your child's teeth start to appear (generally around 6 months), look for a baby toothbrush with a small bristle head and larger grip suitable for your hand. (If your child is healthy and still hasn't sprouted his first tooth by the end of his first year, don't worry — some children don't start getting them until 15 to 18 months.)

As long as you're cleaning your child's teeth regularly, you don't need to use any toothpaste yet. Just brush the teeth gently on both the outside and inside surfaces twice a day. Brush his tongue as well (if he'll let you) to dislodge the bacteria that can cause bad breath. One quick swipe is enough. Replace the toothbrush as soon as the bristles start to look worn or splayed out.

When does my baby need fluoride and how can I tell if he's getting the right amount?

Your baby's developing teeth can benefit from a little fluoride. This mineral helps prevent tooth decay by strengthening tooth enamel and making it more resistant to acids and harmful bacteria. Most municipal water supplies are fortified with fluoride (you can call your local water authority to find out about yours). Bottled water suppliers can also tell you about the fluoride content of their water.

If you get your water from a well, you might consider buying a test kit from your local health department, a hardware store, or a pharmacy. If the results show a fluoride content of less than .3 parts per million, ask your child's doctor whether you should give your child a fluoride supplement (the amount recommended for children under 3 is .25 milligrams per day). She can prescribe fluoride in the form of drops that you can add to your baby's bottle or cereal once a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend fluoride supplements for babies under 6 months old.

If you live in an area with fluoridated water, your child will get no fluoride from your breast milk, but he will get it from the water you use to make his formula if that water contains fluoride. Bottled water and fruit juices may contain fluoride, although the amount is rarely listed on the label.

A little fluoride is a good thing for your baby's teeth, but too much of it can lead to a condition called fluorosis, which in mild cases causes white spots to show up on your child's adult teeth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends waiting until your child is 2 to use fluoridated toothpaste, and even then you should let him use only a tiny (pea-sized) amount each time. This is because young children tend to swallow their toothpaste rather than spit it out and swallowing too much toothpaste over time can lead to fluorosis.

When should I start taking my child to the dentist

The timing of the first dental visit is controversial.

The AAP suggests that you take your child to see a dentist at age 3, unless his doctor sees a problem that needs earlier attention, or she believes that your baby is at risk for developing dental problems. (Risk factors include a family history of cavities and poor dental health while you were pregnant.) If the doctor does think that your baby is at risk, she'll refer you to a dentist six months after your child's first tooth erupts, or by 1 year of age, whichever comes first. During your baby's regular visits to the doctor, she should check to see that his teeth are coming in normally. The doctor should also ask about diet and oral hygiene, and she may make fluoride recommendations.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association, however, recommend that you bring your baby to see a dentist between 6 and 12 months of age. They note that over the last 30 years in the United States, tooth decay in baby teeth has not declined like it has in permanent teeth, and that about 40 percent of children have tooth decay by age 5. An early dental exam might address a problem that your baby's doctor might miss or couldn't diagnose. And establishing a relationship with a dentist early on, the groups say, provides families with a source for important dental information as well as routine and emergency dental care.

~Courtesy of BabyCenter

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