Archive for Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Taking care of baby’s gums can prevent problems down the road

May 8, 2002


I was told by a friend that I need to start taking care of my baby's gums and developing teeth soon after he's born. Is that true? What am I supposed to do?

Your friend is right. It is important to start caring for your infant's dental health from day one. Tooth decay occurs more frequently with children who take a bottle to bed at nap and night time. When the baby falls asleep with the bottle in the mouth, liquid bathes the teeth all through sleep.

The germs that live in the mouth eat sugar in the liquid and make strong acids. These acids decay teeth. Any drink other than plain water can cause baby bottle tooth decay. This includes milk, formula, fruit juices and sodas.

Here are the recommendations for developing good dental health habits for infants, toddlers and preschoolers:

Infants (0-6 months)

The germs that cause decay come from sharing tasting spoons, eating utensils or letting baby stick fingers in mother's mouth.

Fluoride has been proved to make a babies' teeth stronger and more resistant to cavities.

Clean babies' gums daily with a clean, damp washcloth, finger cot or gauze pad.

Hold babies while feeding them and never put babies in bed with a bottle. Instead, use a variety of baby health comforts, such as infant massage, singing, rocking or security blanket to help babies go to sleep.

Use only a clean pacifier, and never dip the pacifier in honey, anything sweet or alcoholic. Not only can honey cause decay, it can also transmit botulism to infants.

Infants (6-12 months)

The primary teeth begin to erupt during this time (although they can appear earlier).

Clean babies' teeth and gums with a soft bristle toothbrush.

Begin to introduce solid foods. Foods that contain natural sugars or substances that break down to a sugar will change the consistency of saliva. This change in saliva can promote tooth decay.

Instead of sweetened desserts or sticky foods, offer babies mashed or pur fruit with no added sugar.

Give no more than 2 to 4 ounces of juice in a cup each day, and do not add sugar.

Toddlers (12-24 months)

Encourage the toddler to brush as early as 18 months, with assistance. Use songs, games, and favorite toys to make brushing a positive experience. Use up to a pea-sized portion of toothpaste on the child's brush.

Fluoride has been proved to minimize tooth decay when found in drinking water, toothpaste and other supplements provided by health professionals. Bottled water often does not contain fluoride so its use should be discouraged.

The tongue needs to be brushed and instructions given to assure that all surfaces of teeth are brushed. When finished with brushing, the child should rinse with water and spit if possible.

In the childcare setting, toothbrushes should be identified clearly with each child's name and air-dried without touching each other.

Brushes should be replaced every three months and after an illness.

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

Practice brushing with preschoolers twice a day, making sure the surfaces of all teeth to the gum line are brushed.

Regular dental screenings can identify problems before they become more serious.

Can you tell me what the recommended serving sizes of food are for children?

A place to start is with portion sizes. But remember, some children will eat more, some children will eat less. Also, remember that it is the child's task to decide how much to eat and whether or not to eat. It is the adult's task to decide what food is served, when food is served and how the food is served.

Here are the suggested guidelines for food portion sizes:

Children ages 1-2

Bread: 1/2 slice.

Cereal, cooked: 1/4 cup cooked.

Cereal, dry: 1/4 cup (1/3 ounce).

Rice or pasta: 1/4 cup cooked.

Vegetables or juice: 1/4 cup.

Fruit or juice: 1/4 cup.

Milk: 1/2 cup

Cheese: 1 ounce.

Yogurt: 1/2 cup.

Meat, poultry, fish: 1 ounce.

Dry beans/peas, cooked: 1/4 cup.

Peanut butter: Peanut Butter is not recommended to children under the age of 2.

Fats, oils, sweets: Limited amounts only.

Children ages 3-5

Bread: 1/2 slice.

Cereal, cooked: 1/4 cup cooked.

Cereal, dry: 1/3 cup (1/2 ounce).

Rice or pasta: 1/4 cup cooked.

Vegetables or juice: 1/2 cup.

Fruit or juice: 1/2 cup.

Milk: 1/2 to 3/4 cup.

Cheese: 1 1/2 ounce.

Yogurt: 3/4 cup.

Meat, poultry, fish: 1 1/2 ounce

Dry beans/peas, cooked: 3/8 cup.

Peanut butter: 3 tablespoons.

Fats, oils, sweets: Limited amounts only.

Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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