Baby Teeth & Gums: What Every Parent Needs to Know
From the moment babies are born, their health and well-being take center stage, and that includes oral health.
Most parents know that at some point during their child’s first year of life, the teething process will begin, and with it comes the need to pay close attention, so problems can be handled as soon as they appear.
In this article, we take a detailed look at what all parents need to know about baby teeth and gum health.
Common misconceptions about baby teeth
1. Babies are born toothless
Yes and no. It’s true that when a baby is born, you can’t see any teeth in their mouth, but they already exist under the gums at the time of birth.
Teeth form during the first six weeks of pregnancy, and remain under the gums until they first emerge at around 6 months of age.
It’s important to remember this, as the mother’s diet and lifestyle can affect their baby’s oral health later on. This is why during pregnancy, it’s recommended to follow a healthy diet that includes the vitamins and nutrients needed for normal tooth development, including Vitamin A, calcium, protein, and phosphorous.
2. It doesn’t matter if babies have cavities, as their teeth will fall out anyway
As we said earlier, teeth are already present under the gums once a baby is born. And beneath their primary teeth lays the foundation for permanent teeth.
Due to this, if cavities on primary teeth are not treated, they could create future problems once permanent or adult teeth come in. For example, an infection could develop and spread to the root of permanent teeth.
What’s more, an untreated cavity can cause pain and discomfort to the child and interfere with normal eating, speaking, and play routines.
3. Babies don’t need to go to the dentist
Pediatric dentists specialize in keeping the teeth and gums of babies healthy. You don’t have to wait until teeth-related problems develop – a general checkup is recommended by the time your child is 12 months old or within the six months following the appearance of their first tooth.
After that, checkup frequency is determined by the dentist.
Can babies develop gum problems?
Unfortunately, yes. Mild and severe forms of gum disease can appear due to genetics, improper hygiene, certain health conditions, poor diet, and mouth breathing.
Symptoms to watch out for include:
- Red and / or swollen gums.
- Bad breath.
- Changes in the spacing of the baby’s teeth.
- General restlessness and irritability.
To prevent problems, parents are advised to clean their babies’ gums daily, even if teeth haven’t emerged yet. Just use a clean and damp cloth to gently wipe their gums after feeding them.
Teething: What’s normal and what isn’t
Teething usually starts at the six-month mark, although some teeth may appear as early as three months.
The first primary teeth to erupt will be the lower front teeth. You can see the general guidelines on teething order and timeline here. Please note that these are guidelines and not rules, so it’s normal if some babies teeth sooner, later, or in a different order than the one mentioned in the link above.
Teething can be uncomfortable, so expect your baby to be more restless than usual. Normal teething symptoms include:
- Frequent gnawing and chewing.
- Altered sleep patterns.
- Red gums.
- A mild temperature (below 38C / 101F).
Certain symptoms are not normal and could suggest there’s a problem. Visit a dentist asap if:
- The baby’s primary teeth haven’t made appearance by the time they’re 18 months old.
- The baby refuses to eat due to teething pain.
- The baby develops a high fever during teething.
- Vomiting, diarrhea or rashes appear during teething.
Soothing teething pain in babies
Here are few things parents can do to help soothe teething pain in babies.
1. Rubbing or massaging the gums: Gentle pressure can ease the pain. Use a clean wet cloth or clean fingers.
2. Cold therapy: This can be effective temporarily numbing teething pain. A cold spoon, chilled fruit, a clean frozen cloth, or a cold teething ring may help.
If the above doesn’t help, ask your doctor or dentist about over the counter painkillers suitable for babies.
Oral care guidelines for babies
To ensure teeth and gums are healthy, it’s important to follow an oral care routine as soon as possible and even if primary teeth haven’t come in yet.
- During the first few months of life, use a clean gauze or a cloth to keep the gums clean. Make sure to clean them after feeding and before bedtime.
- You can start using a toothbrush designed for babies once the first 3 or 4 teeth come in. You don’t need to use toothpaste at this point, just dipping the toothbrush in warm water is enough.
- When more teeth appear, start using toothpaste but only in small amounts (a grain of rice), increasing to pea size amount by age 3.
- Flossing can start before age 3 too or whenever the child has two teeth that touch each other, but don’t let your baby do it unsupervised.
- Replace the toothbrush every 3 months or if it gets damaged.
- Take your child to the dentist when the first primary teeth come in or by the time they’re 12 months old. This is also a good time to inquire about a fluoride varnish.
- Ensure your child drinks an adequate amount of water every day.
Taking care of your baby’s teeth and gums will help ensure they enjoy good oral health during childhood and when they grow up. Remember that your dentist is there to help with advice and answers to all your questions.