An infant’s oral health requires parents’ attention even before the infant is born. The final 10 weeks of pregnancy and the first 4 weeks after birth are especially important. This is the perinatal period. Seem odd? After all, a child’s first teeth don’t erupt until 6 – 12 months postnatal. How can we take care of teeth that aren’t there? This is the subject of perinatal and infant oral health.
Fact is, the teeth are there. In fact, the basic substance of a baby’s teeth forms only 6 weeks after conception. The hard outer tissues of the teeth begin to form during the third or fourth month of pregnancy. By the time a baby is born, there are generally 20 primary teeth tucked in the gums, waiting to start erupting 6-12 months later.
The goal of perinatal and infant oral health care is to set the table. That is, to establish the conditions that best lead to a life free from preventable dental problems.
BRUSHING FOR TWO
The old saying is that an expecting mom has to eat for two. We know now that she also has to brush for two. A good diet helps assure normal development of the unborn child’s enamel. Likewise, By taking care of her own teeth, a pregnant mother is also taking care of her baby’s future teeth. A mom’s poor oral hygiene promotes transmission of cavity-causing bacteria from her mouth to her baby’s. This is the chief cause of the most common childhood disease, Early Childhood Caries (ECC).
PERINATAL AND INFANT ORAL HEALTH
Once a baby has come into the world, oral hygiene should begin right away. Of course, it won’t be time for the toothbrush or toothpaste until there are teeth. Until then, Baby’s gums should be wiped with a clean, damp cloth. We want to discourage the growth of bacterial colonies in Baby’s mouth. For that reason, too, it’s best to avoid practices that transfer saliva from parents’ mouths to a baby’s.
When an infant’s first tooth erupts, it’s time to begin brushing. Twice a day, with a soft toothbrush and a glob of fluoride-free toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. This is training as well as cleaning, getting the child accustomed to what should become a lifelong practice. Speaking of habits, this is the time to make sure not to develop the habits that promote baby bottle tooth decay.
A DENTAL HOME
Finally, Baby should have a pediatric dental checkup sometime after the first tooth erupts, but before Birthday 1. This visit, like early brushing, has training value. It helps a baby feel at home in the dentist’s office. This growing comfort will, over the years, encourage the child, the teenager, and the adult to have regular checkups and necessary treatments.