It may seem that caring for baby teeth isn't that important -- they're only temporary travelers in your child's mouth, after all, and will soon enough be replaced by teeth that last a lifetime.
Well, not exactly.
Baby teeth, or "milk" teeth, are placeholders for grown-up teeth. Healthy baby teeth usually result in healthy adult teeth. If they're not looked after well, your child could develop issues with speaking or chewing properly, or crooked and crowded teeth when older.
The Arrival of Baby Teeth
Before the first of the 20 baby teeth makes an appearance, your little one will likely be drooling, fussing, and wanting to chew on anything in sight. Then the initial tooth bud will pop through the gums, followed by others over the next year.
This usually happens around six months of age, although some children can be closer to a year old by the time the first one arrives.
Some parents like to introduce the habit before teeth appear and use a small, soft piece of gauze to gently wipe their baby's gums. This gets them used to the concept of brushing before the teeth are in.
Start Brushing Right Away
But when the teeth do arrive, you'll want to begin brushing. Choose a child's toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head. Use a tiny smear of toothpaste and brush all around, front and back, using small circles. Be gentle as gums can be extra tender when teething.
Once all the teeth are in and your child wants to do the brushing, continue to supervise and use a corn-kernel-sized amount of toothpaste. Encourage them to spit it out and avoid swallowing. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that swallowing fluoride can lead to stains on your child's teeth.
Be Vigilant About Your Baby's Mouth Health
Protecting your baby's teeth from outside agents is equally as important as brushing. Breast milk, formula, or water are all good choices for your baby's bottle but don't fill them with juice or sugary drinks. You should also avoid putting honey or other sweeteners on pacifiers -- anything that rests on a baby's teeth can start the decaying process.
Healthy Drinks Make a Big Difference
A condition known as "baby bottle tooth decay" usually affects the upper front teeth, but can also spread to the surrounding ones. The most common cause is when soda or high-sugar juices are put in bottles and babies either fall asleep with them or suck on them for comfort for a prolonged period. The teeth surrounding the nipple start to decay. Don't let your child walk around with a bottle dangling from his or her mouth -- this is a sign they are becoming attached.
Bacteria feed on sugar and produce acid, which could compromise your baby's teeth. If your child needs a bottle or sippy cup to get to sleep, fill it with water. And be judicious with dried fruits, such as raisins, which are high in sugar and stick to teeth.