What no-one tells new parents about their baby’s oral health

When it comes to parenting a new baby, the focus is normally on developmental milestones, feeding and sleeping. Often new parents aren’t told about looking after their infant’s mouth.

For Dental Health Week (August 1-7), the Australian Dental Association (ADA) is reminding Australian parents of the oral hygiene basics for children: brush twice a day, floss daily, eat a diet low in sugar and see your dentist regularly.

This may seem obvious, but the stats surrounding children’s’ oral health are alarming: 34% kids aged 5-6 have had tooth decay in their primary teeth, 70% kids aged 9-13 consume too much sugar, and 27% children aged 5-10 have untreated tooth decay.

The lack of infant oral healthcare information may contribute to these stats so it’s helpful to uncover the basics of baby oral care so you don’t have the same problems.

Before babies get their teeth, parents may choose to wipe baby’s gums with a clean, damp muslin cloth to remove food particles once they start solids. Once the first tooth arrives, use a soft bristled infant toothbrush and water to brush with, not toothpaste.

“You don’t need to introduce toothpaste until your baby reaches 18 months unless otherwise advised by your dentist,” said the ADA’s Oral Health Promoter and dentist Dr Mikaela Chinotti.

“At this age, start using a fluoride containing children’s toothpaste – fluoride is important as it helps strengthen and protect teeth from decay.

“After brushing, your child should spit out the excess toothpaste, but they don’t need to rinse the mouth with water. Children are likely to swallow more toothpaste by rinsing than by just spitting out.”

Once a baby can hold their own feeding spoon, you can hand them a toothbrush to start playing with and putting in their mouth to get used to the feel of it. If you brush your teeth at the same time, they can mimic your actions to get familiar with the process.

But parents need to do the brushing for them to ensure teeth get cleaned properly. This supervision should carry on until your child has their pen license (around age eight) or can do up their own shoelaces.

For parents who find brushing their baby’s teeth tricky, there are numerous phone apps that have songs to help your little one to brush for the recommended two-minute length of time. Alternatively play a song your child likes for the two-minute period. For babies with only a few teeth however, this two-minute routine is not necessary at this stage.

In addition to brushing, flossing should start from when your baby has two teeth that touch together side by side, often around the age of two. Your dentist can show you how to floss inside a little mouth and most recommend flossettes for little mouths.

The issue of night-time drinks is another area that warrants de-mystifying: when sleeping, the body decreases saliva production so the milk from a bedtime bottle of formula milk may be left on the teeth without the saliva flow to wash it away. If this occurs repeatedly, it can result in tooth decay.

If you give your baby a bottle at bedtime, put cooled, boiled water in the bottle if they’re six months or younger. After that age, give them water straight from the tap in their bottle as a bed-time drink and never juice, as the acid in the fruit may also lead to tooth decay.

Your baby’s first dental visit is best done when their first tooth arrives or by age one, whichever happens first –keep it calm, because this may spark anxiety at subsequent dental visits.

For the first few appointments some parents find putting their little one on their lap as the most comfortable and calming solution for everyone.

At these early dental appointments, the dentist will investigate your child’s mouth to examine the teeth and advise the parent or carer on oral hygiene techniques, and provide information on a tooth-friendly diet.

For more information on this and other oral health topics, head to the ADA’s dedicated oral health website

Image: spokesperson Dr Mikaela Chinotti