Start them brushing before they have teeth

Everything you need to know about baby dentistry and teething — you don’t need to ask, SmartParents talked to paedodontist Dr Terry Teo, of The Dental Studio, a Singapore Medical Group (SMG) clinic.


1. Do I have to worry about baby’s gums when I am breastfeeding? Bottle feeding? 

Breastfeeding or bottle feeding has no effect on baby’s gums. However, parents should be careful of formula milk, which is usually high in added sugar and may put your child at risk of tooth decay. As long as good oral hygiene and the restriction of frequent dietary sugar intake are observed, your child should have healthy teeth and gums.

2. Some people say things like “don’t let your baby suck a pacifier or their thumb because it can affect their teeth” — is that true?

Yes, these habits can affect tooth development. Pacifier or thumb sucking is called non-nutritive sucking, and long-term use of this habit in your child can either cause the front teeth to grow more forward in a “Bugs Bunny” position, or grow apart in what is called an open bite. This is because these objects constantly in your child’s mouth actually can adversely mould the growth of the jaws and affect tooth position. However, as long as these habits are stopped by around age 4, there should be no long-lasting damage.

3. Should I bother with a baby toothbrush and baby paste? I was told to use a washcloth and just clean/rub his gums. Even when he has a few teeth.

Before baby has teeth, a soft cotton cloth wet with water is adequate to clean the gums. Once the first tooth erupts, it is advisable to use a soft, small-headed training brush to gently brush the teeth as plaque accumulation on tooth surfaces cannot be removed by a cloth. Baby pastes are not necessary, but a fluoride toothpaste is recommended.  

4. Teething symptoms — how can I soothe my baby? Will ice help? Do the teething gels work? Is it an itch or a pain?

All children undergo teething from the first baby tooth eruption up till the last; this lasts generally between 4-30 months of age. Teething symptoms manifest in excessive chewing of objects and drooling, loss or changes in appetite, mood changes and sometimes low-grade fevers. The use of a teething ring for your child to chew on is the most recommended, as teething gels may contain anaesthetics.

5. How early should I introduce toothbrushes? Toothpaste? Someone told me that gentle brushing alone is good enough. 

A toothbrush such as Kodomo Soft And Slim for 0.5–2-year-old babies should be used when the first tooth erupts. If you have been wiping baby’s mouth with a cloth, baby will be used to the feeling and introducing such a small, soft-bristled brush should not be too difficult when the first tooth erupts. At this age, it is about getting baby used to the sensation of you brushing with a toothbrush, and gentle brushing is good enough to remove plaque deposits from milk that builds up on the tooth surface.

6. Will it help or hurt my baby if I use a fluoride toothpaste on him?

It is proven that fluoride prevents tooth decay. Babies cannot yet spit, and thus if a fluoride toothpaste is used, it will mostly be ingested. Usually, the amount is negligible to cause any harm, so it is advisable to use a smear of fluoride toothpaste on the brush if baby is at risk of decay. Because formula milk is high in added sugars, almost every child in Singapore who drinks this from a bottle is at risk of tooth decay. In certain situations, a higher concentration of fluoride in the toothpaste is recommended, but such situations should be assessed by a paediatric dentist first.

Dr Terry Teo can be reached at The Dental Studio.

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