Thoughtful Parenting: Baby teeth are important

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Tips on caring for babies' teeth

■ Before the baby’s teeth come in, wipe the gums with a soft, clean washcloth after each feeding.

■ After teeth come in, wipe the baby’s teeth after each feeding, especially along the gum line, with a soft cloth or soft-bristled toothbrush.

■ Consult with the baby’s doctor and dental provider about when to begin using fluoride toothpaste, and then use only a small smear (size of child’s pinky nail). After brushing, wipe off the teeth until your baby is old enough to spit it out.

■ Do not put your baby to bed with a bottle containing anything other than water.

■ Avoid sugary foods, such as candy, soda, sugary cereals and chips.

■ Avoid sticky foods, such as raisins or fruit leather, and avoid dipping a pacifier in honey.

■ Avoid putting things in your mouth and then putting them in the mouth of your baby.

■ Avoid saliva-sharing behaviors between children through their toys, pacifiers, etc.

■ When a baby is teething, try rubbing the gums gently or giving the baby a cool teething ring. Consult the baby’s doctor about the safety of teething medications.

■ Consult the baby’s doctor if you are concerned that baby’s primary teeth aren’t coming in.

■ Bring your baby to a dental provider after the first tooth comes in and no later than the child’s first birthday so the dentist can check for tooth decay and other things that might affect the teeth, including thumb sucking.

■ Talk to dental and health care providers about preventative measures such as fluoride varnish for young children and dental sealants for older children to help protect teeth from cavities.

Sources: American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and Cavity Free at Three

“Time to get ready for bed. Brush your teeth.” 

I wonder how many decades these words have been said in households across the country. 

We know healthy habits start at a young age, and bedtime routines are important because they help a child transition from activity to relaxing and preparing for sleep. Parents frequently ask at what age they should start brushing their children’s teeth.

At all ages, bacteria in the mouth and food interact to produce acid that decays tooth enamel. Gum disease can start early in life, and tooth decay can develop as soon as the first tooth appears and can lead to painful infections. Parents and caregivers unknowingly might transmit bacteria through their saliva, especially if they have untreated dental disease, when they clean off a pacifier by putting it in their mouths and then their babies’ mouths or when they taste food from their babies’ spoons to test the temperature.

Baby teeth have a purpose in the overall health and development of the young child. These teeth and healthy gums are needed for good nutrition and for learning to speak. Chewing also helps the jaw develop. If baby teeth decay and are lost too early, the remaining teeth might move and not leave room for adult teeth to emerge.

Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic childhood diseases that is nearly 100 percent preventable. Oral disease can disrupt speech development, nutrition and sleep. In school-age children, oral disease also causes missed days from school and negative self-esteem.

Beth Watson is a public health nurse with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, and Toni Telford is a coordinator for Cavity Free at Three. Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition Executive Director Janet Pearcy also contributed to this article. Routt County’s Cavity Free at Three program is overseen by First Impressions of Routt County and Horizons Specialized Services. The VNA and Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition are members of Routt County’s Early Childhood Council.

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