By Dr Tonya Kirk
I am often asked by people, “what is the best age for my child to start seeing the dentist?”
My answer is always: it is never too soon!
The Australian Dental Association currently advises that babies should have their first dental visit as soon as the first tooth is cut.
Early dental visits ensure that everything is developing as it should, and also provide useful advice to parents and guardians about how to best protect babies’ teeth against decay. At these visits, the dentist will examine baby quickly- usually in the comfort of their parent’s knee, with an emphasis on preventative advice.
The most common form of dental decay found in very young children is known as ‘nursing caries’. These nursing caries occur when the teeth are being consistently bathed in milk, formula or other drinks- particularly when a bottle is being used as a pacifier.
Tooth decay is caused when the bacteria in our mouth turn sugars into acids by fermentation. Some sugars such as sucrose are turned into acid very quickly. Drinks containing these sugars (such as soft drinks, cordials and fruit juices) should never be given to small children, and definitely never in a nursing bottle.
The sugar present in milk and formula is known as lactose. Lactose is fermented by oral bacteria a lot more slowly than other sugars and is generally far less harmful to the teeth. However, if the bottle is being used as a comforter and the milk is in contact with the teeth for prolonged periods of time, dental decay can occur. Even human breast milk can cause dental decay if baby is suckling for prolonged periods, especially overnight.
All babies and toddlers love to suck on things, and doing so is important psychologically for them. However, if the need for sucking is met with a bottle containing milk or other fluids, the sugar can lead to tooth decay.
For this reason, it is far better to use a dummy as a pacifier (or baby might use his fingers or a thumb) and keep the bottle or breast-milk just for nutrition at mealtimes. It is perfectly normal for babies and young children to want to use sucking to pacify until the age of about four and until this time, there is no need to worry about pacifier use.
Quick Tips To Keep Baby’s Teeth Healthy:
- Use the bottle as a means of feeding the baby at mealtimes only – move on to a sippy-cup as soon as baby can manage.
- Avoid allowing baby to suckle on breast-milk for prolonged periods overnight
- Stick to infant formula, milk or water in a bottle- avoid sugary juices.
- Visit your dentist as soon as the first tooth comes through for advice about diet, effective cleaning and to pick up any problems early.