by Dr. Michele Brown
We all love to watch an adorable baby sucking on a bottle, but breast fed babies, although less likely to develop cavities compared to formula fed babies, can develop baby bottle syndrome when feeding is done on demand.
Until recently, a child would only visit the dentist after dental disease occurs. Sadly, some children with decay developed pain, infections, abscesses, chewing difficulties, malnutrition and low self esteem. Others experienced malocclusion, poor growth, difficulty in speech, bruxism (grinding) and decay of the permanent teeth. Delayed treatment was expensive and often children required general anesthesia and/or frightening restraint for needed repairs.
As if these outcomes were not terrible enough, many people have had to endure mouthfuls of fillings, crowns and bridges later in life as the conditions worsened over time. I suppose this all may seem better than the infamous wooden teeth of the George Washington era, but honestly, not by much.
Now that dentistry has, thankfully, shifted to prevention of cavities by proper oral hygiene and treatment with antibacterial and tooth protecting substances. Here are the oral care guidelines for young babies.
Not true! Although a baby is born without visible teeth, development of two sets of teeth has begun in earnest by the 6th week of gestation. By the time the baby is born, both the primary and permanent teeth are present below the gums in an early developmental stage.
Now that you understand that all your baby's teeth are "in there," it's clear why early preventative care will help prevent traumatic dental care issues from cropping up any time during life.
Children should be visiting the dentist by 1 year of age and be seen twice a year after that. Dentists should discuss diet, provide oral hygiene instructions and detailed directions for fluoride intake. They should also offer behavioral recommendations including the use of pacifiers, the ramifications of thumb sucking and the prevention of baby bottle syndrome.
Nutrition continues to play an important role in prevention of tooth decay. Cariogenic foods such as crackers, teething biscuits, fruits and fruit juices, sweetened and acidic soft drinks should be limited. Carbohydrates, broken down by the enzymes in saliva along with bacteria in the mouth leave acid residue that dissolves the tooth enamel. Gums and newly erupted teeth should be cleaned after eating these types of foods. Dairy foods, especially aged cheese, can be protective.
Fluoride use, which prevents tooth decay by increasing the density of the enamel, helps the teeth resist acid dissolution and is recommended after birth to limit cavities (caries).
Fluoride content of water should be tested and fluoride given by 6 months of age if the water is not supplemented or if the supplementation is less than .6 parts per million. Excessive intake of fluoride is not recommended because it produces mild dental fluorosis. This can also occur when children swallow large amounts of toothpaste that is supplemented with fluoride.
Fluoride use during pregnancy is controversial, with broadly divergent opinions.
The opinions range from "absolutely not" to "absolutely, positively yes" based on studies, some of which are interpreted to find that there is great benefit provided by the use of fluoride supplements during the pregnancy, to commencing fluoride use with the eruption of the infant's teeth, to those who express the greatest concern about the generation of fluorosis and other undesirable or even dangerous conditions. Please consult your physician and your dentist for the recommendation in your individual case. Be sure to tell those you ask whether you live an an area that has a fluoridated water supply or well water. [Editor's note: Use of fluoride to prevent dental caries is highly debated. Please research thoroughly before making a choice.]