Baby teeth and why they’re so important by The Mummy Dentist

Everything you need to know about teething  

We’ve got all the tooth truths: from myth busters and top tips – here’s your ultimate guide to teething. 

We caught up with Dr Jemma Hook aka The Mummy Dentist (@themummydentist), who is 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. 

Back to basics 

First up, there are 20 teeth in your little ones’ set of ‘primary’ or ‘milk’ teeth. 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. 

Let’s explore some tooth truths and how to look after them… 

Eating 

It’s good to understand the different food-related functions of baby teeth: 

  • Incisors – the front teeth. These teeth have a sharp flat edge for biting and cutting into food. 
  • Canines – the ‘corner’ teeth sometimes referred to as a ‘fang’. They have a sharp, pointed biting surface to grip and tear food. 
  • Molars – the wide back teeth have a large flat biting surface. The function of the molars is to chew, crush and grind food. 
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    Drinking 

    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. 

     

    Overall wellbeing 

    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. 

    Dr Jemma’s top tips when weaning for looking after baby teeth: 

  • 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. 
  • And now for some myth busters… 

    Teeth do not ‘cut’ through the gums 

    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. 

    Teething doesn’t cause illness… 

    …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. 

     

    Teething pain 101 

    So, what causes teething pain? 

    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. 

    How can I prevent teething pain? 

  • Clean your baby’s gums every day to reduce bacteria and food deposit build-up. Use a clean gauze and cooled, boiled water, or specially designed baby DentalWipes. 
  • Brush teeth from when the first tooth appears and keep gums clean. Specially designed dental teethers with silicone bristles help clean both teeth and gums as it is chewed. 
  • Brush your baby’s teeth twice a day with a children’s fluoride toothpaste, even if there is only one tooth! 
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    Teething watchouts 

  • Introduce your baby to a free-flow cup from 6 months of age. 
  • Check your baby as they get teeth, by lifting the lips (and speak to a dentist if you’re concerned). 
  • Limit fruit juices and directly sucking from fruit puree pouches. 
  • Avoid using dummies or choose one with an orthodontic design. 
  • Avoid dipping dummies into anything sweet (if you choose to use one). 
  • Try not to leave your baby with a bottle at night 
  • Aim to switch away from bottle-feeding altogether from the age of 1 
  • Take your baby to see the dentist by the time they are one year old – even if they don’t have their teeth yet. 
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    Our friends over at www.brushbaby.co.uk have a wide range of dental-care products for babies, toddlers and children from newborn to 6 years of age. 
     


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