As soon as your baby gets their first tooth around six months, it’s important to start taking care of their little mouth and cleaning ‘milk’ teeth the right way. This involves more than brushing teeth regularly (with an appropriate fluoride toothpaste), it also means thinking about your baby’s diet (if they have started weaning) and the right cup for baby to drink from as well as regular trips to the dentist. Dental Mummy, Helen Clint, gives her top tips on how to look after baby’s teeth to establish healthy habits for life.
Whether you have chosen to breastfeed or bottle feed, or a combination of both, it is important to look after your baby’s teeth when they start to come through. When you start weaning at around six months, it becomes even more important to start good dental habits including introducing an open cup like Babycup First cups which are perfect for little hands.
Here are my top tips for how to look after your baby’s teeth.
Tip 1: Breastfeeding and teeth
Breastfeeding exclusively is recommended for around the first 6 months of life as it provides the best nutrition for babies. Complementary foods should be introduced from around 6 months of age when weaning starts, alongside continued breastfeeding.
Top tip…Breastfeeding up to 12 months of age is associated with a decreased risk of tooth decay, and it may also be protective. There are antibodies in breastmilk that may help to impede bacterial growth (including the bacterium that causes tooth decay). Lactoferrin, a protein in breastmilk, may actually kill these bacteria and they may not be able to use lactose, the sugar found in breastmilk, as readily as sucrose, found in some formulas.
Breastfed babies can still get cavities though as breast milk (like formula milk) contains natural sugars.
Tip 2: Night-feeding and teeth
It is normal and common for children to breastfeed to sleep. Breastfeeding is different to bottle feeding in that the breast will not release milk unless actively sucked, so the milk is less likely to pool in your little one’s mouth. When breastfeeding the sucking and swallowing minimises contact between the teeth and milk but the exception to this is during ‘let downs’ – this is the release of your breast milk and may happen randomly. If ‘let downs’ occur at night when baby is asleep when breastfeeding, a pool of milk in the mouth may form when baby’s teeth may be in contact with milk for an increased time. At night, and when we sleep, the saliva which neutralises the acidic state of the mouth is also less abundant so it is worth taking your baby off the breast when they sleep (to avoid ‘let downs’). You can also wipe away any pooled milk from your baby’s gums, lips and mouth with a clean muslin, or you can use dental wipes instead.
Tip 3: Introduce an open cup when you start weaning
From six months when you start weaning your baby, an open-topped or free-flow cup is recommended by many dental practitioners like myself – these are different to ‘sippy’ cups. It may take a little while for your baby to get to grips with drinking from a cup as it will feel completely different to a teat or a nipple so be prepared for a few spillages! Drinking from a cup is recommended because it is less likely to cause liquid to collect around the teeth, which may lead to dental cavities. With the right sized cup for little hands, like the award-winning Babycup First Cups, drinking from an open cup ensures your baby has good drinking habits from the start.
Many parents consider ‘no spill’ cups which are similar to bottles in terms of encouraging frequent use. This frequent use, the intense sucking action babies need to release the liquid, as well as the position of the tongue to open the valve inside, can have a negative impact on your baby’s teeth and speech development. My advice is to try to avoid them. Open cups do not have these problems and are preferable.
I’d also advise not using a bottle or sippy cup as a pacifier to prevent your little one getting used to having them always in their mouths. Another great tip is to always encourage your baby to drink at the dinner table, or during breaks in activities, rather than walk around carrying a drink. Another great advantage of using an open cup is that they help discourage cups being used as pacifiers, and instead, promote drinking in a healthy way. Babycup First Cups by British-brand, Babycup, are specifically designed to be baby-sized for little hands and baby-safe.
Tip 4: Clean teeth thoroughly and introduce a ‘golden hour’ before bed
Here’s a suggested routine to follow when cleaning teeth:
• Brush your child’s teeth 2 times per day for 2 minutes. Use a flat smear of fluoride toothpaste at least 1000ppmF (0-3 years) – It’s recommended to brush before bed and at another time in the day
• Leave at least thirty minutes after a meal or a drink before brushing – this allows the mouth to return to its more neutral pH
• From the age of one, consider introducing a ‘golden hour’ when all your child has in the last hour before bed is water. This will mean that the last thing that touches a child’s teeth before bed is a fluoride toothpaste
• Visit your dentist before the age of one and ensure you visit regularly thereafter once a year or more, depending on the advice of your dentist
Healthy dental habits should start early because tooth decay can begin to develop as soon as the first tooth comes through. I’m a dentist, but I am a mum too, and want to educate and empower families to make informed decisions based largely on evidence based research. To read more from me and more about Babycup First Cups, please visit www.babycup.co.uk