Thoughtful Parenting: 1st birthday — dental checkup

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In another town, in another decade, it was naptime at the child care center.

The center was respected by the community as a safe, healthy early learning environment, staffed with trained caregivers.

Thoughtful Parenting

This weekly column about parenting issues is written by local early childhood experts. It publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

The children had just finished a home-cooked meal, served family style around a table. There had been friendly socializing, and children were learning from one another and from the adults dining with them that vegetables are tasty.

After lunch, soft music was wafting from a tape recorder, and a video of colorful fish, swimming around a reef, was running on a TV screen. Caregivers were getting babies, toddlers and 2-year-olds ready to nap on mats or in cribs with their favorite blanket or toy from home. Since the children had been practicing feeding themselves, little faces, completely smeared with food, were gently washed with warm water.

Many children were getting sleepy while drinking a bottle of milk. One thing was missing from all the activities — caring for teeth.

Since those days, early childhood teachers, doctors, dentists and parents have become more aware of the strong connection between dental health and overall healthy development, even in babies.

Tooth decay starts with bacteria and carbohydrates (sugars) in the child’s mouth. Bacteria turn the sugars into an acid that eats away tooth enamel. Lactose is a type of sugar found in human milk, cow’s milk and baby formulas. Allowing a child to fall asleep with a bottle allows milk, juice or other sweet liquids to pool around the teeth. This constant supply of sugar makes decay happen quickly.

Cavities are the most widespread childhood disease in the U.S. and can lead to a lifetime of pain, low self-esteem and learning problems.

However, the basic steps to prevent tooth decay are neither complicated nor expensive.

Tips for protecting baby’s teeth

■ Avoid sharing spoons, forks or cups with your baby. Adults can spread decay-causing bacteria in their saliva. Use clean water to wash baby’s face; avoid the “spit-bath” clean-up.

■ No pacifiers dipped in honey, sugar, jam or any sweet liquids. If a pacifier gets tossed on the floor, don’t clean it with your mouth.

■ Have your child finish their bottle or sippy cup before going to bed.

■ At bedtime, read a story, sing, rock the child and give a back rub, a security blanket or teddy bear. If children become attached to the bottle at bedtime, it’s a difficult habit to break.

■ If you put your baby to bed with a bottle, give water only.

■ Teach your child to drink from a cup instead of a bottle by their first birthday.

■ Before teeth appear, clean the baby’s gums with water on a clean, soft cloth each feeding.

■ After the teeth come in, wipe them after each feeding, especially along the gum line. You may use a soft bristled toothbrush. Use water or a very small amount of toothpaste and wipe off the toothpaste.

The first birthday is a good time for a dental checkup to prevent future dental problems. Parents learn how to care for their child’s first teeth.

Tell the baby’s doctor the name of the baby’s dentist. A dental provider and a medical provider who know about your baby’s health and illnesses can help you keep your baby well.

Beth Watson is a public health nurse with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. The VNA has been a member of the Routt County Early Childhood Council since its inception in 1997. Information is from Cavity Free at Three.

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