When babies begin getting teeth around 6 months of age, it’s a sign that they are growing up. It’s also the moment when parents may begin thinking about their child’s oral health. However, you can start making a difference in the overall health of you and your child before they are born.
Studies have shown that an expecting mother’s poor oral health may lead to an increased risk for having preterm labor, premature delivery, low birth weight babies and twice the chance of developing preeclampsia. In February 2010, the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology noted that bacteria from an expectant mother’s mouth had caused a stillbirth at 36 weeks.
As parents, our goal is to raise our children to be as healthy and productive as they can be. Simple preventive measures or early routine treatment will make a difference in your child’s oral health.
How Do Kids Get Cavities?
Bacteria make acid in our mouth from our food and drinks – even breast milk. It slowly eats away at our teeth, eventually making holes in them called cavities. These bacteria make acid for about 45 minutes every time we eat or drink something with sugar, starch or carbohydrates (not just candy).
In the worst-case scenario, neglecting oral health can result in death. In February 2007, an article in The Washington Post highlighted an 8-year-old boy who died from a tooth infection that spread to his brain. Simple preventive measures or early routine treatment could have saved his life.
They’re Just Baby Teeth, Right?
Most kids have 20 baby teeth by the time they are 3, and they won’t lose all of them until they are 11 to 13 years old. Some parents wonder why dentists care so much about teeth that are going to be lost anyway. Here are some reasons:
- Prevent toothaches, the second leading cause of children missing school.
- Hold space for permanent teeth to come in properly.
- Tooth infections can spread to other parts of the body, causing stomachaches, heart disease, even death.
- Establish healthy habits while children are young, which is much easier than when they are older.
What Can Parents Do?
- Take care of yourself. Children acquire bacteria in the mouth in the first 18 months of life, usually from the parents. Acquiring fewer bacteria results in fewer cavities. When a mother says, “My child has their father’s teeth,” it may be more accurate to say, “My child has their father’s bacteria.” Maintain your oral health by brushing and flossing daily, scheduling regular dental visits and using things like mouth rinses or chewing gum containing xylitol (a natural sugar that limits bad bacteria in the mouth).
- Good hygiene, good diet. Cavities can start as soon as you can see your baby’s teeth. Even before the teeth come in, it is helpful to clean your baby’s gums with a clean, moist cloth after feeding. This limits bacteria and trains the child for future dental care. As the teeth erupt, use a soft child’s toothbrush with a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste, which helps make teeth more resistant to getting cavities. Children generally don’t develop proper coordination to brush well until they are about 7, so help them until then. Establishing healthy eating schedules when young will also help prevent cavities by limiting the amount of time the bacteria have to make the acid. Fewer snacks equals fewer cavities.
- First birthday, first visit. Take your child to a dentist within 6 months of their first teeth coming in. This allows the dentist to help prevent cavities, to find cavities while they are small and easier to fix, and helps your child become more comfortable at the dentist as they grow. Find a dentist who works with young children and an office that caters to them – fun toys, safe spaces and movies on the ceiling will help your child love the dentist.
With healthy hygiene practices, parents can have a profound influence on both the oral health and overall health of their children.
Tim Richardson, DDS is a pediatric dentist at A Kidz Dental Zone of Eugene, who specializes in working with young children and children. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. Explore this site; visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram; or call 541-484-5316. Family Info Line is also available; call 211, extension 5, or send an e-mail to