It’s never too early to start caring about your child’s teeth. Starting them on a path to good oral healthy helps ensure that they’ll enjoy a bright, healthy smile when they’re older by reducing the risk of many dental problems later on.
Of course, their road to protecting their pearly whites starts before they even have adult teeth to brush. The following are three of the leading causes of crooked teeth and tooth decay among babies and small children, all of which are preventable.
Few things are cuter than a baby falling asleep with their thumb in their mouth. Thumb-sucking is not only normal but actually an encouraged sleeping aid for babies. While you don’t have to worry about dental problems if there’s only thumb-sucking during bedtime, it can prove troublesome if it extends beyond their sleeping hours.
The good news is that even if your kid suffers dental deformities with their primary teeth, they usually correct themselves once their permanent adult teeth come in. However, excess and/or forceful thumb-sucking can cause a number of problems, including: an overbite (front teeth protruding out of the mouth), open bite (top and bottom teeth don’t meet while the mouth is closed), bottom teeth pointing inward, and other changes to the shape of the teeth. Many of these deformities can even cause kids to develop a lisp or have overly sensitive teeth.
If they haven’t dropped the habit on their own between the ages of two and four, consider speaking to their dentist or pediatrician. Strategies they may recommend include figuring out how to deal with the stressful situations causing them to suck their thumb. Instead of completely forbidding them or punishing them, try positive reinforcement by encouraging them when they’re not doing it.
Pacifiers have many benefits, enough that the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends them over thumb-sucking. Research has shown that pacifiers help with pain relief during medical procedures young babies may go through, enough that they can even help shorten hospital stays. Pacifiers are also said to reduce the possibility of sudden infant death syndrome and are easier for children to abandon when they get older.
Like thumb-sucking, using a pacifier during a child’s first two years will rarely cause deformities to their permanent teeth later on. However, prolonged use can have negative effects on a child’s oral and dental development. Common problems include: crooked teeth, irregular bite and jaw alignment, overbite, and deformities to the roof of the mouth. Many pediatricians even suggest ending or reducing pacifier use by six months in order to avoid more ear infections.
Many experts even believe that pacifier use after 12 months can affect your kid’s language development skills since they’re it’s less time for them to practice making sounds and saying words. One of the best ways to wean infants and toddlers off the pacifier is cold turkey style. Instead of making it disappear without warning, explain to them why they must say goodbye to their beloved pacifier. If that proves too rough for them, wean them off slowly by only giving it during bedtime while offering alternative comforts such as a stuffed animal or soft blanket.
3. Bottle Rot
Breast milk offers vital nutrients and antibodies to your child, not to mention cutting the risk of ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, and more. But while some people believe that breastfeeding can cause tooth decay, it’s been proven that breast milk alone does not cause it. It’s not a until a child starts drinking sugary drinks via a bottle that they risk the chance of developing what’s known as bottle rot.
Bottle rot is the term used for when your baby’s first teeth become infected. This usually happens when young children fall as asleep with a bottle in their mouth. Drinks like milk, formula and juice — all of which contain sugar — help produce acid-causing bacteria in their mouth. Fortunately there are plenty of methods you can take to prevent bottle rot.
The best approach is to start giving your baby a bottle of water during nap and bedtime while also reducing how much sugar they consume each day. Wiping your baby’s gums and small teeth with a clean washcloth after eating can also. Avoid dipping a pacifier in sweet substances like honey or sugar. You should also never use your own mouth to clean a baby’s pacifier or eat from their spoon as bacteria in your mouth can wreak havoc in theirs.