There is nothing cuter than seeing a baby's smile, teeth or no teeth. Did you know a baby's teeth are present from the second trimester in pregnancy? By the time he or she is born, there will already be a full set beneath the gums. Even though parents won't see these teeth for a few months, on average four to seven months, they are there.

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During this period of time it is still important to take care of your baby's mouth by keeping it clean. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), good oral hygiene habits are essential for children. The agency notes that just because baby teeth are not visible, this does not mean he or she can't get a cavity. [1] It is important to keep baby's gums clean in order to protect those emerging teeth, especially after they begin to eat solid foods  

Taking Care of Teeth in the Early Months

Experts say parents should be conscious of their child's oral hygiene right from the start. With 20 primary teeth already fully developed, it is essential to take care of them, including practicing good feeding habits.

"Not putting your baby to sleep with a bottle is a good way of avoiding harmful bacteria from forming around your baby's teeth and gums," says Dr. Rosie Roldan, director of the Pediatric Dentistry Residency Program at Miami Children's Hospital. "Sugars from milk and juice that remain on a baby's teeth for hours can cause a medical condition known as bottle mouth. This can result in cavities in primary teeth." [2]

Bottle mouth, also known as "bottle rot", is a serious condition that can develop in babies. In addition to not putting baby to sleep with a bottle, parents should use a damp cloth to clean baby's gums between feedings, or at least twice a day to remove any potential bacteria buildup.

Solid Foods and Teeth

Parents should continue to wipe baby's gums and teeth clean once he or she is eating solid foods. Chances are teeth will be emerging, or be close to emerging, at this stage and remnants of food can also lead to cavities.

It is vital to keep baby's teeth clean because if they get cavities or rot, they may need to be pulled. While baby teeth are not permanent, these tiny teeth act as placeholders for adult ones.

Taking care of baby's teeth should start early, and starting young helps babies become accustomed to having their mouth cleaned and this avoids a struggle later on when it comes time to introduce a toothbrush. [4] As more teeth emerge and your baby begins to eat a variety of foods, it won't be long before the time will come for brushing, flossing and dental visits.

Brushing Teeth

As baby's first teeth emerge, it eventually becomes time to switch from the washcloth to a soft toothbrush. Before the age of one, avoid using toothpaste, water is fine, and be sure to brush both the front and back of teeth. Once your baby reaches age one, a small amount of toothpaste (non-fluoridated) can be used. By the time your baby reaches his or her second birthday, he or she should be moving towards brushing twice a day. At this age, dentists recommend using toothpaste that contains fluoride. Many parents prefer to do their homework on this one because there is high controversy about the use of fluoride. Toddlers will still need help with brushing teeth, probably for a few years to make sure the brushing is properly done.

Baby teeth brushing
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Avoid Sugary Foods/Drinks

As your infant moves into toddlerhood, he or she be eating a variety of foods and will be attracted to different tastes. In order to protect teeth, it is a good idea to limit sweets and even fruit juices. These add no nutritional value to your child's diet and are not good for teeth.

Related Reading: [ 5 Reasons Why Kids Should Not Drink Soda ]

When to See the Dentist?

While a parent is baby's caretaker for his teeth, at some point there will come a time where routine visits to the dentist and regular cleanings should take place. There are varying opinion on how early a child should have the first dental visit. Many parents often wonder, when is the right time to take their toddler to the dentist? It is always good to talk to your pediatrician and/or dentist to see what their recommendations are in terms of when is the right time to have a first visit, but keep in mind opinions on this may vary. Whatever the opinion, it is important to talk to both and then decide what is right for your child.

Currently, the ADA recommends parents take their children to the dentist no later than 12 months, and then follow a schedule determined by the dentist. Although, some pediatricians will recommend to a parent their toddler should begin to see the dentist at about age 2 or 3.  Some dentists may even prefer to wait until age 3 before a child begins coming in on a regular schedule.

Dentist treating child
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How to Choose a Dentist

Kids Health recommends parents consider taking their children to a pediatric dentist. [5] These dentists specialize in children's teeth and are trained to handle the dental health of children. The offices of pediatric dentists are generally kid-friendly and staff are equipped to handle issues that may arise. That being said, many family dentists are also used to treating children and, if you have a dentist you trust and works well with kids, seeing your own dentist may be the right decision for your child.

Dental care is an essential part of a child's life. According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S. more than 19 percent of children aged 2-19 have untreated cavities. [6] Instilling good dental habits from the beginning will help insure your little one has healthy teeth as they grow. Good early oral hygiene will lead to a healthier mouth as a child grows into his or her teenage and adult years.

Girl brushing teeth
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