By the third week after conception, the primitive mouth has formed. Over the next few weeks, the tongue, jaws and palate develop. During the sixth week, the formation of embryonic cells or tooth buds that eventually form into teeth commences. By eight weeks, the tooth buds of all the primary (baby) teeth can be discerned; by twenty weeks, the tooth buds of permanent teeth start to develop. The development of the teeth within the jaw continues after birth.
Normally, the first primary teeth start to appear in the mouth around six months after birth. The primary central incisors, lateral incisors, first molars, canines and second molars normally appear in this order at intervals from 6-24 months.
By age two and a half years, most children have their full complement of 20 primary teeth – 10 teeth in the upper (top) jaw and 10 teeth in the lower (bottom) jaw.
As stated, prevention is better than cure, since pregnancy does not automatically damage a woman’s teeth. If the mother’s intake of calcium is adequate during pregnancy, her bones – not her teeth – will provide the calcium her growing baby needs. This calcium loss is quickly made up after breastfeeding is stopped. However, the demands of pregnancy can lead to particular dental problems in some women. With proper hygiene at home and professional help from your dentist, her teeth should remain healthy throughout pregnancy.
Babies are not born with a sweet tooth. Babies will enjoy home-made baby foods without sugar. If you’re buying baby foods, look out for the ones without sugar. You don’t have to buy special juices either. Babies will enjoy ordinary fruit juice. For very young babies you should dilute juice with plenty of cooled, boiled water.
Sugar and sugary foods can be a tooth’s worst enemy. For good dental health, cut down on how often a baby eats sugary foods and drinks. Give them as part of a meal instead of between meals if you can. Having sugary foods and drinks too often puts the teeth at risk of tooth decay. This is especially important once the baby teeth start to appear (around 6 months).
The best way of caring for a baby’s teeth is to give food that helps a baby grow and develop. You can use the Food Pyramid as a guide – choose plenty of foods from the bottom of the pyramid, and less of the foods at the top. You can see that sugary foods are at the top of the pyramid.
It is important to never give sweet drinks in the baby bottle. This can be harmful once a baby’s teeth start appearing. Try not to let the baby develop the habit of sleeping with a bottle at night or at nap time. Infants and toddlers should not be put to bed with a feeding bottle or dinky feeder. A baby’s bottle should be used for feeding – not as a pacifier.
A baby will be able to use a cup at 6 months, and they can be weaned off a bottle by 12 months. Give them plenty of cooled, boiled water to drink and about 1 pint of milk each day (breast or formulated milk up to one year and cow’s milk after that).
Some babies get sore gums when they are teething. Babies can get restless or irritable, and they might start sleeping or feeding badly. Sometimes this may lead to problems digesting food or to loose stools. Teething doesn’t make a baby really sick, though, so any sick child should be seen by a doctor – don’t pass it off as just ‘teething’.
If a baby’s gums seem sore or the baby seems cranky and dribbles a lot, there are some things that you can do to help.
Try giving them something to chew on. There is a good selection of teething rings on the market – but make sure they are made of soft material and are big enough so that there is no danger of choking. Some parents/carers find that teething rings containing fluid which can be cooled in the fridge are best. Milk, cooled, boiled water, or very diluted sugar-free fruit juices may help – sweet drinks do not. If a baby wakes at night and is irritable, you can use a mild pain reliever – preferably sugar-free. Ask your doctor or public health nurse to recommend one. Avoid ointments which numb the gum unless your dentist recommends them.
Not all children need soothers or pacifiers. If you feel the baby needs a pacifier, it is important to make sure it is the correct design. An orthodontic one is the most suitable. Only use it when absolutely necessary and wean the baby off it as soon as possible. Otherwise, it may have long term ill effects on the way a baby’s teeth grow. Never dip the soother into sugary liquid (honey, jams or syrupy medicines) to encourage the child to use it.
Babies get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from sucking things – including their own thumbs. There is no real harm in letting them suck their thumbs. Most infants will stop on their own. You can expect children to give up sucking by the age of 4 years.
Thumb sucking is only really a problem if children go on sucking their thumbs after this age. Some children suck their thumbs very hard. This can pull their teeth out of shape. Children who suck hard should be helped to give up. If you want to help a child give up sucking, remember that sucking makes the child feel contented and secure. Encourage the child to do other things instead.
When children are learning to walk they are especially likely to fall and injure their teeth or mouth. You should bring a child to see a dentist if they hurt their mouth and the bleeding doesn’t stop, or if they damage a tooth, or if they fall and drive a tooth back up into their gum. Your dentist will be able to take an x-ray and decide if anything needs to be done.
Pre-pregnancy dental health
You are less likely to have dental problems during pregnancy if you already have good oral hygiene habits. Suggestions include:
- Brush your teeth at least twice daily with fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss between your teeth.
- Visit your dentist regularly.
If you are planning on getting pregnant, but you are also planning on having some elective dental procedures, see your dentist. It is more convenient to have elective procedures done before you conceive. If you require dental treatment during pregnancy, non-urgent procedures are often performed after the first trimester.
Pregnancy may affect your dental care. For example, the dentist may put off taking x-rays until after the birth of your baby. If dental x-rays are unavoidable, the dentist can take precautions to ensure your baby’s safety. If the pregnant woman has a dental condition that requires general anaesthesia or medications, she should talk to her dentist, doctor or obstetrician for advice.