The Tooth of the Matter
The Tooth of the Matter

It’s never too early to start caring for your baby’s teeth – so follow TRACEY LATTIMORE’s guide to making them sparkle!

As each of your baby’s teeth are so precious, it’s really important to care for them right from the start – and that means as soon as the first one comes through. Getting her used to having her teeth brushed from the outset means that it will soon become second nature, and bringing her along on your regular trips to the dentist will hopefully mean that it will always be a positive experience for her.

Even if your little one doesn’t eat much sugary food, her teeth can still be affected by tooth decay as soon as they appear. According to research, nearly half of children under five-years-old in parts of Ireland have decayed teeth, a problem that’s made worse by parents giving children soft drinks and fruit juices in baby bottles.

This can cause ‘baby bottle tooth decay’, where sugar from drinks comes into contact with your baby’s teeth for a prolonged period of time, causing damage. To prevent this, babies should be weaned from bottles by 12 months, and cups introduced at mealtimes from six months. What’s more, only milk should be drunk from a bottle – never fruit juice or squash.

According to dentist Dr Barbara Coyne, regular brushing and a good diet are essential for healthy teeth. “Children should avoid sweet things between meals,” she says. “And although eating fruit is good for you, babies shouldn’t have any fruit juice at all – it’s full of sugar, which causes dental cavities. Fruit juice also contains acid, which causes erosion of the tooth enamel.”

So how best to care for your little one’s pearly whites? We answer your top five questions on how to achieve the best oral hygiene habits for your baby.

  1. What kind of brush should I use?
    “Use a baby toothbrush with soft bristles,” advises Dr Coyne. The head of the toothbrush should be small to make it easier.
  2. Does my baby need toothpaste?
    No – most of Ireland’s water is fluoridated, so there’s no need to use toothpaste for babies and young children.
    “You shouldn’t use toothpaste until your child is over two,” says Dr Coyne. “Babies tend to suck the toothpaste off the brush, and this can possibly cause mottling (fluorosis) of the adult teeth, which are already in place in the gums.”
  3. How should I brush my baby’s teeth?
    Clean them with water twice a day – once in the morning and last thing at night, using a gentle scrubbing motion. Sitting or kneeling behind your little one, holding her chin, will help you reach both the top and bottom teeth. Each tooth should be brushed, and you should aim to get behind the teeth as well as gently around the gums.
  4. How often should I change her toothbrush?
    “Buy a new one as soon as the bristles start to curl – roughly every three to four months,” says Dr Coyne.
  5. When should my baby visit the dentist?
    Take your baby to the dentist as soon as you can – her first check-up should be at around six-months-old, depending on when she cuts her first tooth.

Healthy habits for pearly whites
Use a free-flow or open-lidded cup from six months onwards to help reduce tooth decay.

Choose milk or water for drinks instead of fruit juices or squash – if you do give your little one sweet drinks, it’s better to do so at mealtimes.

Don’t be tempted to brush your baby’s teeth after eating acidic fruit such as oranges or grapes. It will brush the acid in and cause erosion.

Once your child reaches the age of two, use a thin strip of children’s toothpaste on the brush.

If you want to give your child a sweet treat, opt for a piece of dark chocolate at lunchtime rather than teatime.