Taking Care of Tiny Teeth
Baby’s First Visit to the Dentist
By Primavera Hernandez, Senior Health Educator, Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency
It seems to happen overnight. One day your baby is giving you the most delicious gummy smile and the next day, as your baby grins lovingly at you, you notice the white speck of their first tooth! This is a milestone worthy of their baby book and a visit to the dentist! If your baby does not have teeth by their 1st Birthday it is still a good time to take them to the dentist for their first check-up.
Why so early? The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association recommend early visits to the dentist because healthy baby teeth lead to healthy permanent teeth and a healthy body throughout the lifespan. Babies need healthy teeth to chew a variety of nutritious foods, to learn to speak well, to smile with confidence, and to hold space in their mouth for incoming adult teeth. Starting good oral health habits from babyhood will prepare your child for a lifetime of happy healthy teeth!
Tooth decay is the most common disease in children. 1 in 4 children in Santa Cruz County have dental cavities. Decay in baby teeth can lead to pain, infection, missed school days, problems with permanent teeth, and low self-esteem. Preventing and addressing tooth decay in early stages can prevent the development of more painful and expensive oral health problems. The great news is that cavities are preventable!
Visiting the dentist by the time your child has their first tooth or first birthday is important! Here are other helpful tips to support your child’s healthy mouth and teeth.
- Before your baby’s teeth come in, wipe the gums with a clean and damp cloth twice a day.
- As your baby’s teeth come in, start brushing 2 times a day using a fluoride toothpaste. Brush after breakfast and at bedtime. Use a dab (size of a grain of rice) of fluoridated toothpaste.
- Only give water for the nighttime bottle. Cavity-causing bacteria feed on sugar that will sit in your baby’s mouth overnight if their nighttime bottle is filled with a sugary beverage (milk, formula, juice, or other sugar sweetened drinks).
- Breastfed babies can still get cavities. Breastmilk is natural, but still contains sugars that can feed cavity-causing bacteria. If you are breastfeeding throughout the night, be sure to wipe down your baby’s gums with a cloth or brush your baby’s teeth in the morning.
- Feed your child a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein and no added sugars. Try your best to avoid sugary snacks, foods, and drinks. Note: dried fruit, like raisins, can stick to the grooves in your child’s teeth and lead to cavities. Brush well after eating dry fruits and speak to your dentist about adding sealants to protect permanent molars which start to erupt around the age of 6.
- Eating healthfully can be expensive. Call the Community Food Hotline at 831-662-0991 for food assistance and Cal-Fresh (food stamp) eligibility.
- At your child’s next Well-Child medical appointment, ask your pediatrician if they can apply fluoride varnish to your child’s teeth. Fluoride varnish is a safe and effective preventive measure that reduces rates of tooth decay by up to 40%! Your doctor may also prescribe fluoride drops or tablets.
- If you are pregnant visit the dentist during your pregnancy. Dental care during any trimester, including x-rays, is completely safe. Keeping parents’ mouths clean reduces rate of cavity-causing bacteria transfer to their baby.
- Model good dental health habits by keeping up on your own dental health habits! Parents should brush 2 times a day for 2 minutes, floss daily, and visit the dentist 2 times a year.
- Everyone needs to see a dentist at least twice a year! Ask your doctor to refer you to a dentist, if you don’t have one. If you need help finding an affordable dentist and have Medi-Cal Insurance, visit smilecalifornia.org or call the Medi-Cal Dental program at 1-800-322-6384. For local low-cost dental clinics that accept Medi-Cal Dental and have a sliding-scale call Dientes Community Dental at 831-464-5409/ (dientes.org) or Salud Para La Gente at 831-728-0222/ (splg.org). If you have private health insurance, ask your carrier if you have dental benefits or how to get them.
Taking care of your baby’s teeth starts early and the benefits will last a lifetime! Take your baby to the dentist by their 1st Tooth or 1st Birthday.