Babies have a lot of growing to do during the first half-year of life. In that time, many will double their birth weight, grow a fuller head of hair, and start rolling over and sitting up on their own. Another important milestone is often reached at around six or seven months: Baby’s first teeth will start to make their appearance! Those little pearly-whites (which may come in as early as three or as late as 12 months) certainly make for a cute-looking smile—but they also need a little bit of care. Do you know what’s the best way to clean your baby’s new teeth? Here are five tips that can help.
1: Get Ready
You will probably notice that first tiny tooth when it comes in; maybe your baby will even give you a heads-up beforehand, with the drooling and crankiness that sometimes accompany the teething process. But you don’t have to wait until then to start taking care of his or her oral hygiene. Once or twice a day, you can gently clean baby’s gums with a moist gauze pad or a soft washcloth soaked in water. This is especially important when a tooth is just beginning to appear, but has not fully emerged from the gums.
2: Choose the Right Tools
To do the job properly, you’ll need a toothbrush designed especially for a tiny mouth. A wide selection of products is available: Some have different types of grips, and some fit over your fingertip. Choose one that has soft bristles and is easy for you to handle. Also choose a toothpaste that contains fluoride—this new recommendation from the American Dental Association is based on evidence that the protective benefits of a small smear of fluoride far outweigh any potential risks.
3: Use Proper Brushing Technique
Once teeth do begin to appear, they should be brushed twice daily, morning and night. For a child under age three, put just a smear of toothpaste on the brush—that’s an amount about the size of a grain of rice. For ages three and up, use a pea-sized portion. Then use gentle back-and-forth strokes to clean all sides of the teeth: the front, back, and chewing surfaces. As soon as your child is old enough, have him or her spit out the toothpaste after brushing.
4: Pass It On
When kids see you doing something, they want to try it too. That offers a good opportunity to teach your kids the importance of proper brushing. At first, most kids lack the coordination to take over the whole job—but instead of discouraging them, try suggesting that the two of you take turns. When it’s your turn, demonstrate the gentle, thorough brushing technique you’ve practiced; when it’s theirs, be sure to check their work. At around age 6, many kids can start handling the task themselves, under your careful supervision.
5: Keep Up the Good Work
Learning to brush properly helps get your child started toward a lifetime of good oral health. What else should you do? Don’t forget that flossing is another vital part of at-home oral hygiene. You should also try to limit sugary food and beverages—if you allow them at all—to mealtimes. And be sure to keep your regular appointments at the dental office, for routine cleanings and exams. Taken all together, these are the best things you can for your child’s teeth.
Need a reminder about why it’s so important to clean your young child’s teeth properly? How about this: According to numerous studies, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood. It can cause pain and embarrassment; result in time lost from work and school, and cost significant sums of money to treat. Yet, with proper care, it’s almost completely preventable.
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