Dental FAQs for Babies and Toddlers

  1. When will my baby's teeth appear?
  2. At what age are children at risk of getting cavities?
  3. How are cavities caused?
  4. Why is it important to take care of baby teeth if they are going to fall out anyway?
  5. How should I take care of my baby’s teeth?
  6. How can I prevent tooth decay in my baby’s teeth?
  7. What’s the best way to brush my baby’s teeth?
  8. When should I take my child to the dentist?
  9. Is juice recommended for young children?
  10. What form of fluoride is most effective for my child and how much is needed?
  11. Does breastfeeding have an impact on my baby’s oral health?
  12. I’m pregnant. Can I do anything now to help baby’s teeth grow in healthy?
  13. Is my child at risk for cavities?
  14. Why do some children have good teeth, in spite of being given the bottle each night in bed?
  15. What can I do to help my teething child?
  16. My baby drools a lot. Is that good or bad?
  17. My baby has had a lot of ear infections and fever in the past year. Will that have any effect on her teeth?

 

When will my baby's teeth appear?
Teeth normally start appearing when a baby is about six months old; some babies start teething earlier, some later. All 20 baby teeth should appear by about 3 years of age.

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At what age are children at risk of getting cavities?
Cavities can start to develop as soon as the first tooth appears—at about 6 months of age. Cavities are the most common chronic disease of childhood.

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How are cavities caused?
Cavities are holes in the teeth that are caused by tooth decay. Decay occurs when bacteria in the mouth use the carbohydrates (sugars and starches) found in certain foods to make acid. This acid eats away at the tooth enamel, causing pitted areas or holes. Young children are more at risk for cavities than adults because the enamel or outer surface of the baby teeth is thinner than adult teeth.

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Why is it important to take care of baby teeth if they are going to fall out anyway?
Baby teeth help children to eat well, to look nice and to learn how to speak clearly. They also save a space for the adult teeth that are developing under the gums. Keeping baby teeth healthy is important because some of these teeth may remain in the mouth until the age of 12 or 13!

If teeth are not properly cared for, tooth decay may develop. Tooth decay is progressive and cavities get bigger when untreated. If this decay is not treated, the child may experience pain and could develop an infection such as an abscess. Children with decay may have problems eating, sleeping and focusing because of this pain and as a result, may not grow and develop normally. A child with visible decay may become self-conscious and not want to smile or laugh.

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How should I take care of my baby’s teeth?
Keep their teeth clean and free of cavity-causing bacteria. Once the first tooth appears, brush your baby’s teeth twice daily, especially before bed. Use a soft, baby toothbrush with just a tiny dab of fluoride toothpaste. Dentists recommend increasing this to the size of a small pea by the time a child is 3 years old. If your child doesn't like the taste of the toothpaste, try another brand.

Examine the teeth once a month. If you notice white or brown spots on the teeth, give your dentist a call. These spots could be signs of early tooth decay.

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How can I prevent tooth decay in my baby’s teeth?
Tooth decay is mostly preventable. The simplest way to keep teeth healthy is to keep them clean. You can do that by brushing your baby’s teeth twice daily.

A major cause of tooth decay in infants results from allowing the teeth to have ongoing exposure to beverages such as milk (whether from the bottle or breast), juice or formula, all of which contain sugar. This occurs when the bottle and sippy cup are used as soothers, to calm a child. Try other methods of soothing—such as rocking your child—and save the milk for feeding and snack times. Especially problematic is the practise of giving a bottle at sleep time. Because saliva production reduces during sleep, the liquids then sit on the teeth, resulting in ongoing cavity-causing acid attacks. If you are giving your baby a bottle of milk at sleep time now, try replacing the milk with water. You may need to dilute the milk with water for the first while.

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What’s the best way to brush my baby’s teeth?
Brushing your baby’s teeth can be challenging, but it is necessary to keep teeth healthy. Brush at least twice daily with fluoride toothpaste, especially before bedtime. Find a position that is comfortable and which allows you to gently brush their teeth. It is often easier to brush a baby’s teeth when they’re lying down. You could try:

  • holding your baby in your arms in the feeding position
  • laying your baby on a change table, making sure they cannot fall off
  • placing your baby on a couch or bed, with their head in your lap
  • sitting your baby in a high chair where you can stand behind and brush
  • laying your baby on the floor with their head on a pillow placed between your legs.

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When should I take my child to the dentist?
Take your baby to see a dentist by their first birthday. If you notice white or brown spots on their teeth, call your dentist for an appointment right away. These spots could indicate the start of a cavity.

At your baby’s first visit, the dentist and their staff will give you tips on cleaning your child’s teeth. If there are any problems, your dentist can attend to them early.

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Is juice recommended for young children?
Many parents are surprised to find that juice can be harmful to their child’s teeth. Juice, like milk, contains sugar. Juice is not recommended to be given in a bottle or even a sippy cup. When the child is old enough to drink from a cup, health experts recommend limiting juice to ½ cup a day and giving it at meal time, not as a snack. Milk is a better alternative for nutrition, and water is recommended for quenching thirst.

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What form of fluoride is most effective for my child and how much is needed?
Fluoride, a naturally occurring substance, helps make teeth strong and more resistant to tooth decay. In B.C. less than 4% of the population has access to fluoride in their water. Fluoride toothpastes are recommended for all individuals. Fluoride can help reverse or slow down early tooth decay in children. Dentists recommend a tiny dab of toothpaste for infants, and a small pea-sized amount once they reach 3 years of age.

Fluoride is also available in a supplement form, including chewable tablets and drops, and as a varnish, which is painted on the teeth. Supplemental fluoride may be recommended if your child is considered high risk for tooth decay. Your dentist can advise if your child would benefit from fluoride supplements.

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Does breastfeeding have an impact on my baby’s oral health?
Like cow’s milk, breast milk contains sugar that can cause tooth decay if teeth are not cared for properly. To keep healthy, babies need nutrition and regular feeding times; however, using a bottle, breast or sippy cup of milk to sooth a child for an extended period of time may expose the child to ongoing cavity-causing liquids.

Breastfeeding on demand during sleep time can be a risk factor for decay for the same reasons that bottle feeding can be a problem: there is less saliva in the mouth to wash away the liquid which pools in the mouth and causes multiple acid attacks.

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I’m pregnant. Can I do anything now to help baby’s teeth grow in healthy?
You can pass on cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth to your baby, so it is important that you see your dentist to make sure your mouth is in good shape and that you brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

You can also help your child form healthy baby teeth by including sources of calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Calcium rich foods include milk, cheese, yogurt and almonds. Salmon, milk, egg yolks and margarine are good sources of vitamin D.

On the arrival of your newborn, you can help them become accustomed to having someone work in their mouth by gently wiping their gums and mouth daily. Use a clean, soft cloth or gauze.

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Is my child at risk for cavities?
Your child may be at risk for cavities if they eat a lot of sugary foods (such as raisins, cookies, and candy), drink a lot of sweet liquids (such as fruit juice and punch, soda, milk and sweetened drinks) or constantly snack.

Your child might also be at risk if they:

  • were born early (prematurely) or weighed very little at birth
  • have ongoing special health care needs
  • have white spots or brown areas on any teeth
  • do not go to the dentist very often
  • come from a family that eat a lot of sugary foods and drinks, who have a lot of cavities and who do not go to the dentist very often
  • eats very slowly or likes to keep food in the mouth for a long time
  • suffers from acid reflux (i.e., vomits easily after eating)

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Why do some children have good teeth, in spite of being given the bottle each night in bed?
Some children are fortunate and do not have the bacteria that cause decay.

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What can I do to help my teething child?
When teeth start to come in, they can cause pain, fussiness and drooling. You can ease your child's teething discomfort by:

  • Giving them a cold teething ring to chew
  • Rubbing their gums gently with a clean finger
  • Check with a health care provider before using teething gels, tablets or ointments.

Don't give your baby teething cookies to chew on. Most contain sugar, which promotes tooth decay.

Teething usually does not cause a fever. If your baby has a fever, you should talk to your doctor.

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My baby drools a lot. Is that good or bad?
As babies grow, they produce more saliva than they can swallow, which causes drooling. If your baby is cranky or fussy, and tends to chew or gnaw on their hands or bottle, than they are likely teething.

Clean the drool from your baby’s face often by dabbing, not wiping, with a soft cotton cloth. Too much moisture on a baby’s sensitive skin may cause rashes, dryness and chapping.

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My baby has had a lot of ear infections and fever in the past year. Will that have any effect on her teeth?
Your baby might be more fussy and cranky when they have an ear infection so it may be more difficult to get them to sit or lay still while you brush their teeth. However, it is important that you continue to keep their teeth healthy.

Ear infections are frequent at this age and can be mistaken for teething pains. Babies who tug at their ears while crying may have an ear infection and need to see the doctor.