General Health

Good health starts with the mouth

Good health starts with the mouth

When you’re a new parent, there is so much to think about – what color to paint the nursery, where you will deliver, and what will life be like when you bring your newborn home? One thing that you may not be thinking about is your brand new baby’s oral health. February is Children's Health Month and we have tips for parents on when to begin with oral health. 

Most pediatric dentists recommend that regular dental care should begin when the first tooth erupts, or at the latest by the time a child is one year old, and most children should have a dental check-up at least twice each year after that. Some toddlers and children may need evaluations and care more often. Feel like you don’t know where to start when it comes to making sure your little one’s mouth, gums, and little teeth stay healthy? Follow our lead!

Birth to age 6 months

  • It’s never too early to start brushing! Clean your infant's mouth with a washcloth, gauze, or use a soft infant toothbrush after feedings and at bedtime.
  • When the first tooth erupts, start brushing with a smear of fluoridated toothpaste.
  • Now is the time for you to get your dental needs taken care of. By taking care of yourself, you can help prevent the transmission of cavity-causing bacteria to your baby.

Ages 6 to 12 months

  • Yay! The first tooth! During this time, your child’s first tooth should appear. Choose a pediatric dentist and schedule your child’s first appointment.
  • Ask about fluoride varnish that may be applied to the teeth every 3 to 6 months.
  • Brush teeth after each feeding and at bedtime with a small, soft-bristled brush and a small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice. If teeth are touching, start flossing.
  • As the child begins to crawl and eventually walk, stay alert for possible dental injuries.
  • Limit at-will feedings. Kids should start to sleep through the night at this point. As your pediatric dentist about strategies to help transition your baby away from feeding as a pacifier.
  • Starting around 8 months, you can start giving your baby a small amount of water to drink out of a two-handled cup.

Ages 12 to 24 months

  • Follow the schedule of dental exams and cleanings, as recommended by your child's pediatric dentist. Generally, dental exams and cleanings are advised every six months for children and adults.
  • As your child learns to rinse and spit, brushing with a small portion of fluoridated toothpaste is appropriate, in most cases.
  • Make a routine out of brushing teeth each morning and night, this will set the stage for good personal dental hygiene as your little one continues to grow.
  • Children should only have milk at meal times and water between meals. Do give kids other beverages such as sodas, juice, or sports drinks unless advised by a healthcare professional. Anything other than water should be kept to mealtimes.
  • Healthy snacks include cheese, yogurt, vegetables, humus, beans, and dark red- and blue-skinned fruits like apples, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cherries.

Why is it so important to brush baby teeth if they will fall out anyway?

The single best way to remove harmful plaque from teeth and gums is to brush teeth regularly and correctly. At least twice a day is advised. Plaque is a thin, sticky film loaded with bacteria.

  • Proper care of a child's baby teeth or primary teeth is very important, because these teeth hold the place for future permanent teeth.
  • If a baby tooth decays or is removed too early, the space needed for the permanent teeth is lost. It can only be regained through orthodontic treatment.
  • Infected baby teeth can cause the permanent teeth to develop incorrectly. This can cause discolorations and indentations.
  • Primary teeth are important in speech development, aid in chewing food correctly, and promote healthy nutrition.
  • Most children begin losing their baby teeth around the age five or six. Often, the front teeth are the first to come out. Children continue to lose baby teeth until the age of 12 or 13. This is when all of the permanent teeth finally come through, except for the third molars (wisdom teeth). The wisdom teeth can appear around ages of 17 to 21.

Dr. Suzanne Fournier
Suzanne Fournier, DDS serves as a  the Dentist-in-Chief at Children's Hospital New Orleans. She previously served as Children's Hospital's Dental Department Chair and Postgraduate Program Director for LSU School of Dentistry. Dr. Fournier earned her DDS from the University of Michigan, and completed a residency in pediatric dentistry at the University of Florida. Dr. Fournier sees patients at Children's Hospital Main Campus in the Dental Clinic.