The milestone of a first tooth is a sweet one, but the teething period is just the beginning of a lifetime committment to dental care for you and your child
Good dental care for your child is a lifetime commitment, but of course the first step is the sometimes painful process of teething. Some babies are born with teeth already in place; some are late to teething; but most little ones will get their first teeth at around six months. Usually, the bottom front teeth appear first, followed by the top two, more incisors, canines, then molars at around 20 to 30 months. The process can go on for as long as two years.
Baby teeth can erupt with no pain or discomfort, but most parents can expect bad tempers and crying during this period. Common symptoms to look out for include:
- Sore or red gums.
- One flushed cheek.
- Excess dribbling.
- Frequent gnawing or chewing
It's also important to recognise symptoms that may not be to do with teething, such as congestion, sleep disturbance or rashes on the body, which could have other causes and may require medical attention.
Further Reading: Tips To Ease Teething Tantrums
If, though, you are satisfied that your baby's symptoms suggest teething, soothing remedies include:
- Chewing on something cold: putting a clean, wet cloth or flannel in a plastic bag to cool in the fridge and let baby gnaw on it.
- Chilled drinks: a cold, sugar-free drink, or chilled puree or yogurt can provide quick relief. The NHS advises against the use of any type of frozen food, or indeed frozen teething toys.
- Teething rings: this classic method works by applying pressure to aching gums. Teething rings or mitts can be cooled in the fridge for even more effective relief. Look out for those free from harmful BPA, PVC and phthalates.
- Teething Gels: teething gels often contain a mild local anaesthetic and antiseptic ingredients. Choose a teething gel specifically designed for young children - ask your pharmacist for assistance.
Once the trouble of teething is over, you have to start thinking about long-term dental health. There’s a lot you can do to make sure that it’s as painless as possible for your child and for you.
Smoking and drinking during pregnancy are of course not recommended for a wide variety of health reasons, not the least that they can lead to an underweight baby more likely to have poor teeth because of enamel not being formed properly.
Remember that the adult teeth are already growing in the jaws, below the baby teeth, when your baby is born, so some babies whose mothers smoke and drink in pregnancy could have badly formed adult teeth too.
You must maintain a healthy balanced diet while pregnant, making sure you get the right amount of vitamins and minerals your baby needs. These include calcium, which is particularly important to produce strong bones and healthy teeth. Good sources are milk, cheese and other dairy products.
If you bottle feed your baby, never add sugar or put sugary drinks into the bottle, make sure to sterilise it properly, and clean your baby's teeth after the last feed at night, as some breast milk substitutes contain sugar. Try to leave an hour after the feed before cleaning your baby's teeth.
Avoid giving the baby sweet things, or dipping their dummy into sugary treats, particularly before sleep. That way the baby will be less likely to develop a ‘sweet tooth’ in later life, and will be less prone to develop tooth decay.
Try to avoid using a dummy, soother or pacifier, and discourage thumb sucking, both of which can eventually cause problems with how the teeth grow and develop. If your baby really needs a dummy, soother or pacifier, there are ‘orthodontic' ones that reduce the risk of these problems.
Another aspect of dental care in the early years is the mother’s own dental health. This can often suffer during pregnancy, but of course it is as important as the baby’s. In fact, studies have suggested that you may be less likely to have your baby prematurely if you have healthy gums.
However, hormone changes during pregnancy may cause the mother’s gums to become sore, swollen, or even to bleed more easily. Keeping regular dental appointments for thorough cleaning and to help keep plaque and tartar from building up is essential.
If you suffer from morning sickness, rinse your mouth with plain water to prevent the acid in your vomit attacking your teeth. Avoid sugary and acidic foods and drinks between meals to protect your teeth against decay.
While there should be no problem with regular dental treatment during pregnancy, of course more serious procedures may involve risk. There are suggestions that old amalgam fillings should not be removed during pregnancy, and that new ones should not be put in. Different types of fillings are available and may be the safer option.
Dentists prefer to avoid using X-rays during pregnancy, but for major treatments such as root canal surgery, this may not be avoidable.
Your aim should be for enduring dental health for your baby and for you – after all, it’s one of the main areas in which we can take responsibility for our own long-term well-being.
This feature was originally published in the summer edition of Healthy Child with Dr Ranj Singh, which you can also read here!