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Caring for Tiny Teeth

Before your infant goes off to sleep at the end of the day, you should do more than kiss the little one good night. Make sure your baby's developing teeth are not at risk from nursing or bottle tooth decay.

That happens when juice or milk stays in the mouth while a baby sleeps, especially when sucking on a bottle all night. The sugars in the mouth are metabolized by bacteria, which produce acid that eats away the enamel of the teeth. This results in cavities. Cavities must be repaired before they extend into the pulp (commonly called the nerve) of the tooth, requiring either a root canal or the tooth to be pulled. 

When your baby is awake, saliva bathes the teeth, removing much of the sugar from foods and keeping the bacteria in check. But while your baby sleeps, saliva production lessens, and the decay rate increases. 

Parents can fight decay. Even before the first teeth appear, wipe milk or juice off your baby's gums with a clean gauze pad after every feeding. When teeth do appear, brush them with a soft toothbrush after the last feeding before bed and again in the morning.

Experts recommend that by the time babies are a year old, they should drink from a cup.

If the bottle helps a baby settle down, fill it with plain water. Never put a baby to bed with a bottle of milk, juice or sugary drink.

The American Dental Association (ADA) makes these recommendations:

  • Begin to clean your baby's mouth during the first few days after birth. Use a soft washcloth or damp gauze and gently wipe along the gum.

  • When teeth begin to appear, the cloth can still be useful, or use a child-size soft-bristled toothbrush and water.

  • Talk to your pediatrician about dental care for your baby. The ADA recommends that children receive their first dental visit within six months of eruption of the first tooth and no later than 12 months of age. Practitioners can start your child on a lasting program of dental care.