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I think most of us know the basics of good oral hygiene. We brush and floss our teeth and go to the dentist. We learned those basics in elementary school when the dentist went to school and let us chew on those tablets that stained our plaque. As I got older, I was less aware of how to care for my little baby’s emerging teeth. I knew I had to brush my baby’s teeth, but can I use fluoride? At what age would he need floss? When should I take him to the dentist? I just had no idea. Little baby teeth were new to me.
I eventually found out, thanks in part to the wonderful pediatric dentists my children have had the pleasure of seeing over the years. Dr. Justin Chafin is the owner of Firefly Pediatric Dentistry in Franklin, TN. He’s taken our family through some complicated dental work with my middle child, some mundane cleanings with my oldest, and my daughter’s first date is in his books right now.
Dr. Justin, as my kids affectionately call him, agreed to speak with Scary Mommy to give parents a short crash course in dental care for the smallest teeth among us. Here’s what he had to say:
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When should a baby go to the dentist for the first time?
“The recommendation (AAPD, ADA, AAP) is the first visit on the first birthday. Frankly, people usually don’t. But the sooner you can see patients, the sooner you can catch things. Cavities, caries, are technically an infectious disease. It’s caused by bacteria. It is the most common chronic childhood illness. So if we can catch that faster, we can do things [like remineralization to avoid an extraction later.] The sooner we can catch things, the easier the treatment is, and what’s more, the cheaper, ”explains Dr. Justin explains.
Do I need special baby equipment to care for my child’s baby teeth?
‘It doesn’t really matter. Just buy something they will tolerate. The best toothbrush to use is the one they are going to use! If they are going to use a fun, banana-shaped toothbrush, by all means use it. Give them what they are going to use. I’ll say I like extra soft toothbrushes because they get into the nooks and crannies a bit better, ”recommends Dr. Justin.
You don’t really need to floss a baby’s teeth until the back molars make contact, around the age of 2 or 3.
Can I use fluoride toothpaste on baby teeth?
“As for fluoride, I know that’s a hot topic. There is no scientific, evidence-based reason to avoid fluoride. It’s a very tried-and-tested, long-tested, long-studied thing. It’s okay to use fluoride, even on a baby whose two front teeth barely poke through. The main problem is the amount. For babies who cannot spit out enough, use an amount the size of a grain of rice. At that amount, even if they swallow every bit of it every time you put it in their mouth, it won’t be enough to cause fluorosis, upset stomach or anything in their body, ”explains Dr. Justin explains.
If you do avoid fluoride, try getting 6-8 grams of Xylitol in their mouths a day. It won’t work as well as fluoride to aid in teeth remineralization, but it’s better than nothing.
What can contribute to poor dental health in a baby?
“Dental health is a matter of several factors. There are four big ones: the tooth itself, the bacteria in the mouth, what you put in the mouth, and then the time it stays in. If any of these are affected, the risk of getting a hole increases.
There is really nothing you can do about the teeth you are born with or the bacteria strain in the mouth. You will usually get the strain of bacteria from your mother or your primary caregiver. That’s why we brush. To keep that at bay. “
The most important things we can control are what goes into the mouth and the time it stays there
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“Anything sugar or carbohydrates can cause a cavity. The bacteria don’t care if it’s organic, non-GMO coconut water or pure table sugar that they eat with a spoon. They don’t care. They can feed on that. We see a lot of cavities, especially on the front teeth, when children go to bed with a bottle of milk or when they eat as needed for a long time. replied Dr. Justin.
YEP. Even breast milk can damage teeth if it is there together in the mouth.
It’s less cariogenic than Mountain Dew or something, but it does contain lactose levels. The vitamins, minerals and proteins usually protect quite well, but that lactose in there, if left on the teeth long enough, the bacteria that lactose can certainly eat and produce the acid to make a hole, ”he says.
Let’s talk pacifiers:
“Ideally, a child should stop using a pacifier around the age of two. When you are older than two, you start to see more effects. A pacifier is actually just like a brace. Braces create very light forces that move the teeth over time. A pacifier is like a removable orthodontic appliance. If they use them for years, they can cause an open bite, ”warns Dr. Justin.
He went on to explain that if you stop using the pacifier at age 3, the chances are about 2/3 that the effects the pacifier had on the mouth will return to normal without intervention. By the age of four, that chance drops below 50 percent, and some children need a lot of orthodontics to get their mouths back to a healthy position.
My baby is one year old and doesn’t even have baby teeth! Should I panic?
According to Dr. Justin enters the average first tooth when he is seven months old, but that’s just an average. Things like genetics and gestational age at birth can affect the timeline, which is already quite broad.
“I would say if they are over a year old and still don’t have teeth, that’s another reason to come in on their first birthday. Sometimes a small cyst forms that just blocks the first teeth from entering. That’s something we can identify, maybe even do a little procedure and encourage those teeth to get in the mouth and get back on track, ”Dr. Justin explains.
I’m embarrassed to take my baby to the dentist because I think they might already have a cavity.
‘I have a doctor for my name, but not honorable. I have no reason to judge. I don’t know your circumstances. There is no point in judging you and sharing horror stories. You’re here now. Every step in the right direction is progress, ”he assures.
Taking care of baby teeth is a lot like taking care of your own teeth. Keep them clean, build a relationship with a pediatric dentist, and let go of the idea that you have complete control over what happens to their teeth. Dentists exist because teeth need maintenance. If your child needs a lot of dental work over the years, that’s okay! A good dentist can walk you through it while encouraging you to build good habits early on to give those little chompers their best shot at fighting.