We caught up with Dr Jemma Hook aka The Mummy Dentist (@themummydentist), a dentist and a mum, who gives real life guidance with the reassurance of expert knowledge and first-hand experience.
When your baby gets their first tooth around six months it’s a lovely milestone. This is the same time as weaning starts and therefore it’s essential to look after these important ‘milk’ teeth when eating and drinking.
A complete set comprises: 8 incisors, 4 canines and 8 molars, each of them having their own role. Worryingly, an oral health survey by Public Health England* on 3-year-olds found that 12% of this young age group had already experienced dental decay!
Why? This can be caused for many reasons, from not cleaning teeth thoroughly, to drinking sugary drinks, and even not using an open cup to drink from. Where bottles and sippy cups cause liquids to pool around the teeth, it increases the risk of decay.
It’s good to understand the different food-related functions of baby teeth:
Learning to drink is another key skill. Prolonged use of a dummy or bottle can affect the position of a child’s teeth and for this reason it’s strongly recommended to introduce an open cup to sip from at six months. Learning a ‘sipping’ action promotes oral-facial muscle and jaw development, as babies practice new skills including ‘babbling’ and early speech patterns at a young age. It also prevents liquids from pooling around the upper front teeth, helping to reduce the risk of decay.
Good oral health is an important aspect of a child’s overall health. It’s linked to a good diet and indicates children are thriving and getting what they need from food. Having healthy looking teeth also impacts a child’s emotional development too – having problems with their teeth early on not only means they are suffering with pain when eating or even disrupted sleep – but they may also be self-conscious about their appearance.
Avoid sugary food and drinks – the enamel of baby teeth is relatively thinner which makes them more vulnerable to decay.
Avoid frequent snacking on foods with high salt/sugar content.
Choose to give only water or milk as a drink.
Brush twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste.
Biologically babies’ teeth do not ‘cut’ through the gum tissue. Instead, special chemicals are released causing cells in the gums to separate and recede, allowing the new teeth to come through. This process should not be painful, though there may be some discomfort, which is why toddlers like to chew on the area. Teething is often accompanied by drooling due to increased saliva levels – this is good because it helps to flush the area and keep gums clean.
…however it can coincide with the time that toddlers are losing their protective maternal antibodies and building up their own and at this time they can be more susceptible to infection and minor illness.
Pain during teething is generally due to inflammation and infection of the gum tissue. This is caused by bacteria and microscopic material getting into the gum tissue as the gum cells separate and recede, to let the new tooth move upwards. Food deposits and bacteria may also get caught in tiny gum flaps around the newly emerged tooth.