Caring for your baby’s teeth

Susannah Warren talks to health experts to get the lowdown on caring for your baby’s teeth and oral health

A tooth! It’s one of the biggest milestones in the first months of your baby’s life. But once the agonising excitement of watching that first little pearly white break through passes, parents often forget to actually look after the fledgling gnasher. If you’re anything like me, you probably thought, “It’s so tiny, and it’s going to fall out, so surely it doesn’t need much attention?”

Well, you’d be wrong. Dental care should start from the word go, according to Kate Barnard, consultant in paediatric dentistry at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital: “Visit the dentist as soon as their first tooth appears for a check-up and basic information. And start brushing twice a day with an age-appropriate toothpaste, in the morning and last thing at night.”

It’s not as simple as a once-over with a toothbrush, either. Diet plays a huge part in ensuring your little one’s dental health. Sugary foods and drinks – even those seemingly healthy ones – are not your baby or toddler’s friend. Check out Kate’s tips on teeth cleaning over the page, and make brushing effective and midwife Maggie Evans’ Q&As about teething basics.

Paediatric dentist Kate Barnard shares her advice on keeping those pearly whites sparkling

How to Brush
• Brush teeth in the morning and at night with a small, soft brush using age-appropriate toothpaste – and be sure to check the fluoride content. It should be 1,000ppm for children aged up to three years old.
• Place your baby or toddler with his or her back against your tummy, holding the brush against their teeth, almost as if you are brushing your own teeth. Or use whatever technique works for you and your child.
• Encourage toddlers to spit when they brush, but don’t allow them to rinse their mouth with water. We need to keep the fluoride on our teeth for as long as possible to protect them.
• Always supervise: parents should take responsibility for most of the brushing. Try using a chart to encourage good habits. Tip: Most breakfast cereals, even wholegrain ones, are loaded with sugar. Stick to Weetabix or porridge

Food for Thought
• Stop feeding by breast and bottle by the age of one because it can contribute to dental caries. After that, let children drink only milk and water from a cup. If parents want to continue breast and bottle beyond a year, teeth need to be cleaned after the last feed and only water should be given at night.
• Keep sugary foods and drinks to a minimum and then only at mealtimes. Allow sweets and chocolates once a week as a treat but avoid biscuits altogether. Provide three meals a day with no more than one fruit snack. Fruit has its own intrinsic sugar and acid, and should be served as a pudding the rest of the time.
• NHS dental care is free for children aged under 18. To find a dentist near you, go to nhs.uk

Midwife and complementary therapist Maggie Evans answers the teething basics.

When do babies start teething and how long will it last?
Babies can have teething symptoms as early as three months or as late, in some cases, as 12 months. The primary teeth have all usually erupted by the age of two and a half. Most teething rusks contain sugar, which can cause decay to erupting teeth
How will I know if my baby is teething?
Common symptoms include tender gums, drooling or dribbling, ear-pulling, mood changes and feelings of irritability and crying.

How can I help to ease my baby’s teething symptoms?
• Gently run a clean finger over sore gums.
• Keep teething toys or a clean, wet washcloth in the fridge to soothe gums. Do not put teething toys in the freezer as it could damage you baby’s gums.
• Give baby cold food purées and cold water, as well as chilled fruit or vegetables, such as carrot, banana and cucumber, to chew on. Ensure you supervise your baby so they do not bite off any chunks.
• Give your little one a warm bath followed by a gentle massage with baby oil to help calm them.
• Extra cuddles, attention and distraction may help.

How can teething gels and alternative complementary medicines help?
In terms of natural options, Chamomilla is a homeopathic remedy that is traditionally used to relieve symptoms.