The Dental Importance of the 1st Year of Life (Part 3)

Over the last two posts we’ve highlighted important components that heavily impact your child’s risk for dental decay. Today we discuss the final part of the puzzle, that if you get right, will help give your child their best shot at a lifetime of good dental health.

The answer is as simple as regular brushing and flossing. Research shows time and time again that good hygiene habits developed early on in life will have a huge impact on future decay risk. So what can you do to get dental hygiene right?

Even before your infant’s first tooth erupts, you should be trying to get your infant used to the sensation of cleaning in the mouth. The best  way to do this is simply by rubbing your infant’s gums with a clean piece of gauze and water or a clean cloth and water. By rubbing the gums gently you are removing any debris and left over milk proteins from the gums but more importantly you are desensitising your infant to brushing. Rubbing the gums this way once a day (preferably at night) for up to 30 seconds sets the routine to introduce brushing once the first tooth erupts.

At around 5-6 months of age your infant will start to teethe. This can be a troublesome time for you both. You will notice a reddening of the gums around where the new tooth is erupting. Your child will drool and more than likely be irritable until the tooth breaks the skin. To help relieve the discomfort, try cold chew rings stored in the refrigerator and teething gel available from the pharmacy. If necessary you may need to administer pain medication on occasion to help settle your child, as prescribed by your pharmacist. As a general rule teething should only produce local discomfort and reddening around the erupting tooth. If your child experiences high temperatures, diarrhoea or any systemic illness your child needs to be seen by your GP.

Once the first tooth breaks through the gum you can start to clean it. Initially the gum around the newly erupted tooth will remain sore for a day or two so be careful when cleaning the tooth not to bump the gum too severely. Chose either an infants toothbrush and water or continue to rub the tooth with clean gauze and water initially, ensuring to clean both after morning feeds and evening feeds before bed. Once your infant has two or three baby teeth in the mouth you should be using an infants brush at each clean. There is no need to bush for 2 minutes until all of the baby teeth are in the mouth. Clean the initial one or two teeth for 15-20 seconds and then increase the time as more teeth erupt. Use only water and a brush to clean your infant’s teeth until around the age of 18 months. At 18 months a small, pea-sized smear of infants toothpaste can be used when brushing.  Most children can’t adequately spit out until the age of four, however, encouraging your child to spit out after brushing helps develop this skill more quickly.

Finally don’t forget to floss your child’s teeth, yes FLOSS! Too many parents leave out flossing from their children’s daily routine. Remember that your child is developing their routine and beliefs and flossing needs to be part of their daily routine. Try using floss on a stick (flossettes) and encourage your child to allow you to floss. The earlier you start flossing and brushing your child’s teeth, the less resistance you will have.

Research has shown time and time again that a child’s brushing and flossing habits are one of the strongest indicators for risk of dental decay. By setting a daily brushing and flossing routine you are well on the way to helping your child reduce their decay risk for life.

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