After spending a day in the hospital working on some toddlers with major dental issues, pediatric dentist Nilda Collins is happy to talk about ways to ensure good dental hygiene for babies.
“If I could get every parent to bring their child to the pediatric practice by age 1, we would cut cavities and problems in kids probably by at least half,” says Collins, who is with Collins, Bross and Associates Pediatric Dentistry in Annapolis. “Don’t wait until the only way to fix their teeth is to take them to a medical center and put them under general anesthesia.”
So what should parents do to make sure their babies end up with healthy teeth? Collins, Dr. Maggie McGrath from Kent Island Pediatric Dentistry in Stevensville and Dr. Marla Prokop from Tooth Fairy Smiles in Annapolis shared tips on how to best care for your babies’ teeth. Here is what they had to say.
On brushing – As soon as the first tooth appears, start brushing with a soft tooth brush, Collins and McGrath say. Collins recommends using the brush with no paste in a circular motion over the gums and teeth. Prokop and McGrath recommend brushing twice daily. McGrath says that training toothpaste can be used before age 2 and fluoride paste after age 2, but in small, rice-sized amounts.
All three dentists agree that brushing is necessary after breast or bottle feeding before bed and that children should never be put to bed with a bottle of milk or juice.
Collins says that parents should be sure to brush behind the top teeth where milk and juice can settle. “Cavities often start behind the teeth where parents don’t see them,” she says.
On flossing – If baby teeth are touching, parents need to floss, Collins says. Cavities are common between baby molars in children ages 3 to 10 from failure to floss, she says.
On diet – Juice can cause extensive decay due to its high sugar content and should be given in moderation with meals or snacks if at all, the dentists agree. Sugary, sticky foods such as chewy granola bars and fruit snacks cause decay and should be avoided.
On seeing the dentist – The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends the first visit six months after the first tooth erupts or by 12 months.
“We see many children with extensive decay who are younger than 2 years old so the purpose is to get tips and guidance on how to prevent decay and make sure all is well with the erupting teeth,” McGrath says. “We also assess diet and fluoride use and show parents how best to brush and care for their child’s teeth.”
The child often sits in a parent’s lap during the first visits, the dentists says.
On fluoride – A dentist should be consulted to determine if a fluoride supplement is needed after 6 months. Too much fluoride can cause permanent staining. Some well water in Maryland has natural fluoride so a simple water test should be conducted before fluoride supplements are started.
On teething – All three dentists recommend a chilled teething ring, cool wash cloth and/or infant acetaminophen or ibuprofen for teething infants. None of the dentists recommends over-the-counter topical agents. Swallowing these may cause a potential reaction, McGrath says.
By Betsy Stein