“You only get one set of teeth, so look after them!”
This is something that can sometimes be forgotten in the exciting stages of welcoming a new baby into your family. Teeth are a far milestone in the distance and you have much more important things to be dealing with like feeding schedules, changing schedules, bath time, family time and just generally how to adapt to your new ‘normal’.
Dental health plays such an important part of early development for young babies and toddlers. Did you know that teeth develop well before your baby has been born? At around 6 months you baby will start teething and their milk teeth will make an appearance. These are so important for eating, speech, smiling and general confidence as well as paving the way for permanent teeth. Unfortunately if these first teeth are not properly taken care of, dental decay can cause problems with growth and cognitive development. Dental decay in early childhood is also predictive of future dental problems.
The FSAI (Food Safety Authority of Ireland) and the HSE released a document that states there are three main ‘modifiable behaviours’ that can adversely effect your little one’s dental health if not properly paid attention to, and subsequently adapted.
- Feeding habits.
- Dietary habits
- Dental hygeine
It is important to ‘graduate’ your child from a bottle to a cup from around the 6 month mark. This process can take up until their first birthday. Delayed graduation (2 years) from a bottle has been linked to dental issues.
Practices like your little one going to bed with a bottle should also be discouraged. If your baby is breastfed you should begin introducing a cup from around 6 months with cooled boiled water.
When your little one’s teeth start to appear try to avoid unstructured feeding times of milk. Lactose is a natural sugar that occurs in both breastmilk and formula, that when in constant contact with milk teeth, can sometimes ‘pool’ around the edges of the teeth and cause decay.
“Dietary practices can affect dental health and the amount and frequency of sugar consumption is particularly important. Infants less than 12 months of age should follow a no-added sugar diet and keep sugar-rich foods to a minimum.”
As both milestones of beginning to wean onto complementary foods and the appearance of teeth happen at around the same time, it is so important to be aware of what is in the food that you are feeding your little one. The FSAI recommend a ‘no-added sugar’ diet and that weaning promotes healthy eating habits and promotes healthy dental hygiene. Foods that are cariogenic (cause tooth decay due to changing the pH balance inside the mouth) are foods such as those that contain added sugar, sugary foods and sweetened drinks. These should be avoided at all costs in the early stages to avoid tooth decay. Fresh or canned fruits contain an amount of naturally occurring sugars, however it is important to have these a part of your little one’s diet and should not be avoided. Some healthy snack options include fresh fruit and veg, natural yoghurt and cheese.
You should begin brushing your little one’s teeth as soon as they appear. You can use a small soft baby toothbrush and tap water. You do not need to use toothpaste until 2 years of age. A good routine is great for positively impacting dental hygiene practices later in life!
To read more, check out the below link for the National Infant Feeding Policy.