How concerned are you about your baby's dental hygiene?

As your baby grows up, each phase of her development excites you. You eagerly wait for the day she turns over for the first time, or sits, stands, walks, throws a ball even – in short, all those significant moments that mark the growth of an individual.

One such milestone is the eruption of baby teeth. It is your baby’s way of letting you know that she is ready to chew and eat. (And let’s admit it, pictures of babies with toothy grins are always adorable!)

So, let us look at some of the basic aspects of dental care for babies up to the age of 2.

Solid foods and calcium

The first set of teeth is called the primary dentition. This consists of 20 teeth - 4 incisors, 2 canines, 4 molars in each jaw. Normally, these begin to erupt between the 10th and 12th month. However, dental care should begin even before the first teeth arrive.

By the time your baby turns six-months-old, she is introduced to solid foods. The food should be nutritious; rich in calcium for healthier and better growth of her teeth. At this stage, the teeth are yet to take shape. This is also that point in time when calcium gets deposited in your baby’s jaw. Once the tooth formation is complete, it is impossible to add more calcium to it.

Oral hygiene too, must begin before the teeth come. Processed foods and food rich in starch are sticky and must be cleaned off. Crunchy food stuff can be cleaned easily if found stuck between the teeth. Hence, train your child to eat her veggies early on.

While sugar is added to food to make it more palatable, try using natural flavours such as herbs instead. There is no need to withhold sweets, but make sure that the baby drinks a glass of water after having sugary foods to cleanse her mouth.

Cleaning the teeth

Dental care begins from the moment the first tooth erupts. Brushes cannot be used immediately. Instead, the mother can wrap a clean cloth around her finger and wipe her baby’s teeth clean on all the surfaces.

After a few more teeth erupt, you can use a finger toothbrush, which is available at baby stores. This is a silicone finger cap with short and soft bristles at one end. This is worn around the finger and can be used to clean the baby’s teeth. Toothpaste is not required.

Your baby must learn dental care from you as well. So, make sure your baby sees you brushing your teeth at night. Also, teach your baby to gargle as early as possible. Make it fun by making noises or comparing yourself to the washing machine! Avoid having sweets before bedtime.

Baby Bottle caries

When your baby is bottle-fed, she is likely to fall asleep with some milk remaining in her mouth. In this case, the bacterial reaction on the sugar present in milk releases acids which slowly causes the tooth to decay. This is called baby-bottle-caries, and is characterised by multiple decayed upper front teeth. To avoid this, try to ensure that your baby does not have sweetened milk or sticky carbohydrates before going to bed. Instead, you could give her some lukewarm water to drink after finishing her bottle.

Visiting the Dentist

It is recommended that you take your baby with you during your visits to the dentist.

It is better to have your child’s first dental visit at the earliest. It gives her time to bond with the dentist and builds trust. Visiting the dentist after pain has begun is unfair to both. The child will associate the dentist with pain.

Good habits must be taught at a very young age. Considering the types of food we eat nowadays, it is highly unlikely that anyone can last long without at least one cleaning or filling in the teeth. However, timely care of the baby’s teeth can ensure a pain-free smile for a long time.

(The author is a dentist based in Kochi, India)