You love your baby’s smile! And you want to keep it healthy for many years to come.
Dental health is the health of gums and teeth. It’s an important part of your baby’s overall health. Strong teeth help your baby chew solid foods, talk and smile.
Babies can have dental health problems like tooth decay, toothache or tooth loss.
Tooth decay (also called dental carries or cavities) happens when acids in the mouth break down a tooth’s enamel. Enamel is the hard, outer layer of a tooth. Your baby’s teeth can be harmed by tooth decay as soon as they start to come in. If a cavity isn’t filled, the decay can go deeper into the tooth and its nerves. This can cause toothache.
If a baby has serious tooth decay, his dentist may need to remove some of the teeth. This can cause problems because baby teeth hold spots in the jaw for later adult teeth. If a dentist needs to remove baby teeth, a baby may have crooked or crowded teeth when his adult teeth come in. Tooth decay also can lead to infections.
About 1 in 10 2-year-olds (10 percent) has one or more cavities. By age 5, nearly half of children have some cavities.
Tooth decay is caused when plaque on teeth comes in contact with sugary or starchy drinks or food.
Plaque is sticky bacteria that grow on teeth all the time. The bacteria feed on sugars in food and change them into harmful acids. Over time, these acids break down tooth enamel and cause tooth decay.
Tooth decay in babies is sometimes called baby bottle tooth decay. When a baby often drinks something sweet, like milk or formula, the sugar in it can lead to tooth decay. This also can happen if it takes him a long time to finish the whole bottle or if he sleeps with the bottle propped in his mouth.
If you share spoons, food or drinks with your baby, you can pass bacteria that cause tooth decay from your mouth to your baby’s mouth. Don’t share these with your baby.
Start caring for your baby’s gums and teeth in her first year of life. Most babies get their first tooth when they’re around 6 months old. If your baby has healthy gums long before she starts teething, she’s less likely to have dental health problems when her teeth come in.
Here’s how to keep your baby’s gums and teeth healthy:
Signs and symptoms of dental health problems include:
Call your baby’s dentist if your baby has any of these signs or symptoms.
Treatment depends on the problem your child has and how bad it is. She may simply need a really good teeth cleaning by the dentist. But if she has serious tooth decay, her dentist may need to remove the teeth. Some children with dental health problems even need surgery.
Ask your family dentist if she treats babies. If not, find a pediatric dentist. This is a dentist who has special training in treating babies, children and teens.
Last reviewed January 2013
Tiny organisms (like viruses and bacteria) can attack your body and cause infections that make you sick. When you get an infection, your body makes special disease-fighting substances called antibodies to fight the organism. In many cases, once your body has made antibodies against an organism, you become immune to the infection it causes. Immune means you are protected against getting an infection. If you're immune to an infection, it means you can't get the infection.
Vaccines usually have a small amount or piece of the organism that causes an infection. The organisms used in vaccines are generally weakened or killed so they won’t make you sick. The vaccine causes your body to make antibodies against the organism. This allows you to become immune to an infection without getting sick first.
Some vaccines have a live but weakened organism. These are called live-virus vaccines. While live-virus vaccines are usually safe for most babies and adults, they’re not generally recommended for pregnant women.
See also: Vaccinations and pregnancy, Your baby’s vaccinations
As soon as your baby's first tooth appears, start brushing with water. Later, when she is old enough to spit, introduce toothpaste. When you use toothpaste, make it a small (pea-sized) amount of a non-fluoride brand. Don't use a toothpaste with fluoride until your child is 2 years old, unless recommended by her dentist. Don't give her fluoride mouth rinses until she's 6. Start flossing as soon as two teeth start to touch each other.
So when should you actually take her to the dentist? The American Dental Association recommends that your baby get her first dental visit within 6 months of getting her first tooth and no later than her first birthday. The dentist checks the shape of your baby's mouth, teeth and gums and looks for signs of damage caused by thumb sucking. Maintaining dental health early can help protect your baby's teeth for a lifetime.