The ABC’s of a Child’s Teeth

gettyimages-163449605When it comes to children’s dental health, the best possible time to start the care and feeding of your baby’s mouth is while you are pregnant. At around three weeks, before you’re even sure you are expecting, your baby’s mouth begins to form. During week 5 or 6, the “buds” that develop the primary (baby) teeth appear.

At birth, your baby has a full set of primary teeth under the gums, as well as a set of permanent teeth in varying stages of development. And when the baby teeth start to emerge, between 6 and 12 months, it is time to visit the dentist. Prevention that begins at the very beginning increases the odds that your baby’s teeth will be healthy for a lifetime. Here are a few tips to remember at different stages of a child’s development.

Eating for Two: A baby’s tooth buds begin to form between the fifth or sixth week of pregnancy. What you eat during this time nourishes the baby’s development. Unless the doctor advises otherwise, expectant moms should eat a balanced diet with foods high in calcium and phosphorous- key building blocks for healthy baby’s teeth.

Birth To 2 Years: Sucking is an important part of facial muscle development, and it is important not to take the bottle away too early. But to avoid baby bottle tooth decay, don’t give bottles at naps or bedtime. By the time the baby reaches the age of one, you may be weaning him or her off the bottle and encouraging your child to drink from a cup. As your child nears the magic age of two, he or she has been introduced to relatives, babysitters, and friends. In other words, what is put into the child’s mouth is no longer totally influenced by Mom and Dad. Eating patterns and habits-good and not so good- are beginning to develop. Watch your child’s “sweets” intake.

3 To 6 Years: eating habits that are formed during this period will have long-lasting consequences for your child’s teeth. Don’t let your toddler sip on soft drinks, suck on sweets, etc. When given a choice, children will usually choose the food that is high in sugar. Give them healthy snack food alternatives.

7 To 12 Years: Now is the time when your early “good eating” training will come in handy. Kids’ diets tend to take a dive at this age. Between snacks at their friends’ homes and tempting TV commercials, it is close to impossible to monitor what they eat. Educate yourself and your children. Explain what foods are not healthy for teeth (acidic juice drinks and sodas, for example). Read labels and look at the sugar content. Every 5 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon of table sugar. That’s 8 to 10 teaspoons of sugar in each 12 -ounce can of cola.

13 To 18 Years: This is a tough age for any intervention from Mom and Dad. Many teenagers are drinking three to four sodas a day and have plenty of pocket change left over to load up on fast foods, donuts, and a variety of decay-producing snacks. Promote water and sugarless gum in place of sodas and sweets. Also, at this age teens are at risk for catching decay or gum disease from their friends. Explain this and caution them not to drink (or eat) from someone else’s cup, bottle, or straw.