Some parents may not worry about their children’s baby teeth because they fall out anyway.
“As dentists, we hear that fairly often, but it really isn’t true,” said Dr. John O’Brien. O’Brien is a regional dental director for Marshfield Clinic and dentist at the Family Health Center-Marshfield Dental Center, operated by Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc. (FHC), in conjunction with the Clinic. “Baby teeth serve as placeholders for permanent teeth so for good dental health, those teeth need proper care and maintenance.”
Start early with cleaning and check-ups
Most dental professionals recommend you arrange a first visit to the dentist after your child’s baby teeth have come in, or no later than the first birthday. But good dental health actually begins before the first visit.
Dentists recommend cleaning your baby’s gums after every feeding, using a clean washcloth or a damp gauze pad. Plan to help brush your child’s teeth twice a day until she is old enough to do it on her own.
Some children may fight this at first, but if you can make a game of it, they usually settle down. Once that happens, you’ve taken a crucial step toward a lifetime of good dental health habits.
Dentists also stress the importance of fluoride and avoiding sugary food and drinks.
“Just as with adult teeth, fluoride hardens the surface of teeth and helps prevent cavities,” O’Brien said.
Most communities add fluoride to their water supply. If yours does not, or you have a private well, ask your dentist or pediatrician about fluoride supplements.
Cavities can form in baby teeth
Avoid giving sugary formulas, fruit juices or soft drinks, especially at nap time.
“Some parents prop a bottle or ‘sippy’ cup by the child in bed to help calm them down,” O’Brien said. “But sugary drinks really feed the bacteria naturally found in the mouth. This produces acid and can cause your baby’s teeth to decay the same as permanent teeth, causing pain and infection that will require treatment.”
He added that concern about sugar extends through the teen years, when children are tempted by tasty treats and peer pressure.
Parents should bring their children to a dentist regularly. If you don’t have dental insurance and don’t think you can afford a dentist, look into dental centers operated by Marshfield Clinic and FHC, which serve all patients, regardless of ability to pay or insurance status.