0 TO 24 MONTHS
Oral care begins at birth. In fact, while you’re still in the hospital you can begin looking after your baby’s oral health. After you give the bottle to or nurse the baby, go ahead and wipe his gums. This gets the baby used to having something in his mouth, and begins the process of preventative oral care. You can use a clean washcloth or any damp, clean cloth; it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s clean.
HOW TO DO IT: When you’re cleaning your infant’s mouth, you’re going to go over the whole mouth. You’re going to go around the cheeks, the ridges where the teeth come in, everywhere that the milk has been, and you’re going to wipe the tongue as well. Then as those first teeth start to come in around six months, go ahead and pull out a toothbrush. It needs to be a really soft toothbrush, a smaller toothbrush than an adult size. You don’t need to use toothpaste at this time. You’re just trying to get off the little bit of the film left from the milk, rice cereal or whatever the baby is eating.
There are three things needed to cause cavities: sugar, bacteria, and teeth. When a baby is first born, the mouth is sterile. The longer we keep it sterile, the better we will be. We want to do all we can to avoid transmitting the bacteria from your mouth, from another baby’s mouth, or from grandparents’ mouth to the infant’s mouth.
The way infants most commonly get this bacteria is through this kind of transmission, whether it comes from parents cleaning the pacifier with their mouth and then giving it back to the baby, or, when they’re spoon-feeding the baby, taking the spoon and touching it to their tongue to test how hot the food is before putting it into the baby’s mouth. Even something as simple as Grandma and Grandpa wanting to smooch on their little grandbaby by kissing her on the mouth transfers bacteria from their mouth into the baby’s. All of a sudden this baby goes from having a sterile mouth to one with potentially cavity-causing bacteria. The longer you can avoid getting that bacteria into your baby’s mouth, the longer it is before we have to worry about cavities. We call it horizontal transmission or vertical transmission. Vertical transmission is right from the mouth of a parent, from Mom’s or Dad’s mouth to the baby’s mouth. Horizontal transmission comes from other people or grandparents. In the exam room, I counsel parents to look out for this kind of transmission, to try to avoid kissing the baby on or around the mouth, although I know it’s hard, because those cheeks are big and those babies are cute.