Caring for Your Baby's Teeth

By Roberta Duyff, MS, RD, FAND
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Good dental care begins at birth – even before baby teeth appear! Healthy teeth let children chew food easier, learn to talk clearly, and smile with self-assurance.

Make cleaning your baby's teeth and gums part of the daily bathtub routine. Starting at birth, clean your baby's gums with a soft infant toothbrush and water, or use a clean, wet washcloth or gauze pad. Do this after every feeding. Skip toothpaste, which babies often swallow.

Schedule your baby's first visit to a pediatric dentist after the first tooth appears (at about six to 12 months).

Fluoride is a mineral that helps teeth develop and resist decay. In many places, fluoride is naturally present in local water supplies at various levels. If you live in an area that doesn't have fluoridated water, ask your baby's doctor if your baby or child needs a fluoride supplement. Unless your child's dentist advises otherwise, wait until after age two or three years to start with fluoridated toothpaste.

To avoid tooth decay, do not put your infant, toddler, or young child to bed with a bottle of juice, formula, or milk. The liquid that bathes the teeth and gums from sucking on the bottle stays on teeth and can cause tooth decay. That happens even if a baby's teeth haven't yet erupted through the gums. If your child won't nap or go to bed without a bottle, fill it with plain water instead.

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