The day that first cute little tooth pops up in your baby’s mouth is an eagerly anticipated milestone for many moms. But those tiny teeth also present parents with a new challenge: how to best care for them.
Circle of Moms members with tots this age, like Lindsey W. (whose one-year-old son's fourth tooth is coming in) have lots of questions, including when to take a child to the dentist for the first time, how to get him to tolerate a toothbrush, and what kind of toothpaste to use. Here, Circle of Moms members who've been through this stage offer answers — in the form of a mom's guide to caring for your child's first teeth.
When to Start Going to the Dentist
"A child's first dental visit should be around age one,” advises Amanda J., and she's in good company. "Most dentists like to examine the mouth and make sure parents/guardian are taking proper care and can answer any questions there may be."
Circle of Moms member Caryn B. points out though that "A lot of dentists won't see kids until they are ready for school," because they need to be able to sit still through a dental checkup. She waited with her own kids. As she explains, "As long as you are doing your job as the parent and brushing their teeth/wiping their gums there probably is no need to take them. Most pediatricians check their teeth at well check-ups and will refer you to a dentist if needed. My daughter didn't go to her first appointment until last April, a month before she turned five.”
When you decide that it's time to go, Kelly W. recommends first introducing toddlers to the idea of a dentist checkup by allowing him to accompany you on yours. “"I always let my little ones go in with me to see me have my teeth cleaned, and so they learned not to be afraid of the dentist," she explains.
As Circle of Moms member Kelly W. points out, limiting sugar is another important part of tooth care. She held off on her children's dentist visits until the age of three, both to avoid the expense and because this was her dentist's recommendation, and focused on establishing good tooth care habits at home. “If you clean their teeth and (hopefully!) you limit or completely don't allow sugary drinks and candy, they should be fine." Of her four kids, only one has ever had a cavity, "and that was in a baby tooth that the dentist just pulled rather than filling (my son was about 10 at the time).”
When and How to Start Brushing
Many Circle of Moms members, including Caryn B. and My D., suggest adding tooth-brushing to your routine as soon as your child’s teeth appear. The habit has a happy side effect: Amy D., who started gently brushing her daughter’s teeth after four popped out explains that, "It helped her to teethe, as well as making them clean."
1. Start Slowly
Brushing a young child's teeth can be easier said than done. Sarah J.'s 17 month old daughter "clamps her mouth tight" as soon as she gets the brush into her mouth. To avoid resistence, take baby steps, recommends Patti B.: "When my daughter started teething at five months, we first started with one of those very soft baby washcloths and wiped/rubbed her gums every night before bed. As she got more and more teeth, we switched over to one of those rubbery baby toothbrushes that fit over your pointer finger and used that with water. Once she had close to a full set of teeth, we started using a 'training' toothbrush and training toothpaste (the kind without flouride)."
Annemaree P. also recommends taking it step by step, with the goal of eventually teaching your toddler to brush his teeth himself. When her son was old enough to hold a tooh brush himself, she "let him just chew it and bite it." Then, when he was about 16 months old, she started to brush his teeth once a day. "Now he’s two and a half and he does it three times a day.”
2. Brush Your Teeth Together
"The first step to getting your toddler to brush his or her teeth is to model it," says Elise C. She reports that her daughter is getting good at mimicking her behavior. They brush their teeth together, and her daughter watches for pointers. Then Elise brushes her daughter's teeth again, to make sure they've done a thorough job.
3. If Your Child is Tense, Distract Him
Jamie W. used music to get son to cooperate during the nightly teeth brushing ritual. "I sing his favorite character songs and try to get him to dance with me and get him to ease up so I can brush them, or I talk to him about the day and get his mind off it. It works every time."
4. Use a Flouride-free Toothpaste, or None at All
Circle of Moms members also have advice on what kind of toothpaste to use. "If you use toothpaste, it should be flouride-free until at least age two or until baby doesn't swallow it," says Emily R. "Swallowing flouride can actually be harmful to the adult teeth that are already forming below his gums, plus it may discolor his existing baby-teeth. But honestly, you can just use water until he is old enough for toothpaste."
5. Make it Fun
Brittany H. offers "incentives: "My son has always liked brushing his teeth, but when he needs a new toothbrush or toothpaste then he gets to go to the store and pick out whatever kind he wants," she says. "Last time it was a Spiderman toothbrush and Pooh Bear toothpaste and he gets so excited that he can't wait to get home. He also brushes his teeth at the same time as me and my husband and that helps too."
How do you take care of your toddler's teeth?
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