Family Life

Protecting Baby’s Oral Health

The period when babies are teething can be tough on children and their parents. While parents who have dealt with teething infants in the past might be able to recognize when their new babies’ teeth are coming in, first-time parents may wonder why their baby suddenly seems so uncomfortable and irritable.

In a 2016 study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers who analyzed studies from eight different countries determined that teething can make babies feel miserable. Thankfully, the researchers also found that teething usually does not make babies sick. An examination of 10 major studies found that the most frequent symptoms of teething in infants and toddlers were gum irritation, irritability and drooling.

Because teething can be so uncomfortable for babies, parents must be patient as their children’s teeth slowly come in. As babies begin to exhibit signs of teething, parents can also take steps to protect their babies’ oral health.

■ Discuss fluoride with your child’s pediatrician. A naturally occurring mineral that’s found in many foods, fluoride can benefit babies’ teeth in a variety of ways. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), fluoride can strengthen tooth enamel and make it more resistant to acid attacks that contribute to tooth decay. Fluoride also makes it more difficult for plaque bacteria to produce acid. 

Parents of infants can discuss fluoride with their children’s pediatricians, who may recommend prescription drops of chewable tablets as babies’ teeth begin to grow in.

■ Inspect and clean babies’ teeth. Babies can’t brush their own teeth, so parents must perform this task for them. AAP notes that healthy teeth should be all one color. Any spots or stains should be brought to the dentist’s attention. Once a baby gets his or her first tooth, parents can use a smear of fluoride toothpaste that’s the size of a grain of rice to clean the teeth at least twice daily. AAP recommends cleaning teeth right after breakfast and before bedtime.

■ Feed babies healthy diets. Another way parents can protect their babies’ teeth is to feed their children healthy diets. AAP recommends foods and drinks that do not contain a lot of sugar, such as fruits and vegetables. When feeding babies fruit, be mindful of dried fruits, such as raisins, which can stick to babies’ teeth and may contribute to cavities if not thoroughly cleaned off the teeth.

■ Do not put babies to bed with bottles. AAP advises against parents putting babies to bed with a bottle. Milk, formula and juice contain sugar, and babies who suck on bottles with liquids that have sugar in them before going to sleep may suffer from tooth decay. 

When babies begin teething, parents can take various steps that can safeguard their children’s oral health for years to come. These tips are helpful in getting your little ones through the teething stages and setting them up for a healthy and happy oral future. ■

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