A Healthy Mouth Begins Before Birth

My life irrevocably changed when my wife Lindsey gave birth to our first child, Benjamin. As a pediatric dentist, I have spent countless hours studying oral health and caring for other people’s children. Pediatric dentistry is my passion—one that’s even more meaningful to me now that I have a child of my own.

Pregnancy, birth and parenting can be very overwhelming. As moms and dads, we have so many first-time experiences to consider and priorities to juggle. Good oral care—for mother and child—should hold a spot at the top of the list.

A mother’s well-being lays the foundation for her child. Hormone changes, diet and acid reflux during pregnancy can impact the mother’s oral health. Untreated cavities house bacteria that may be passed from a mother to her infant, drastically increasing the likelihood of the child experiencing cavities, too. Many expecting mothers are not aware of this connection.

Germs that cause tooth decay are often present even before your infant’s teeth begin to appear. After feedings—right from birth—Lindsey or I would gently wipe the inside of Ben’s mouth, including his tongue and gums, with a clean soft cloth to remove leftover breast milk (or formula). This practice can be a lot of work, and life is super busy with an infant in the house. The effort is worth it though, because it lays the groundwork for a healthy mouth and a more manageable brushing routine as your child grows.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast/bottle feeding with breast milk or formula exclusively for the first six months. Once Ben’s first teeth began to appear, we more closely monitored the frequency and length of his feedings. It’s important to avoid allowing your child to fall asleep nursing or with a bottle, as cavity-causing bacteria thrive on these sugars and starches, especially during sleep. Since juice has little to no nutritional value, we don’t keep it in our house. Grandparents, family and friends do like to spoil at times—an occasional encounter with juice is just fine as long as it does not become a regular part of your routine.

Life and birth circumstances are different for every family and sometimes breastfeeding just isn’t possible, but if you can do it, you should. Breast milk helps establish a healthy gut flora for your child. This microbiome of bacteria inside the mouth and gut influences everything from your child’s susceptibility to cavities to the foods he/she craves. Avoiding processed/refined sugars and juices is important not only for oral health but also for the health of your child’s whole body.

All infants respond to toothbrushing differently. Some babies become very upset; others are completely comfortable from the start. Once Ben’s first tooth appeared, we began brushing his teeth at least twice a day. The easiest, most effective way to brush is with him lying down. We apply a rice-sized amount of toothpaste to an age-appropriate soft-bristled toothbrush. Then, we lift his lips to better see, angle the toothbrush toward the gums and move the brush in a circular motion along the gum line.

We’ve been fortunate—Ben responds well to brushing for the most part. He has his challenging moments just like all children, but even when it is difficult, we stick with it because we know it’s important and consistent routine will make these difficult moments fewer and further between. No matter how your baby reacts, don’t give up!

Establishing an oral care routine right from birth prevents decay and helps your child more easily accept help with brushing once the first tooth appears. Be persistent. It’s much easier to put time and effort into preventive care than it is to address dental issues later.
Your baby’s first visit to a pediatric dentist should occur when the first tooth appears or by age one, whichever comes first. We would be thrilled to be your family’s partner in dental care. You can learn more about Dr. Mitch and Dr. Dennis here.

For additional oral care guidelines as your child grows, click here.