There is so much to learn about prenatal and postnatal baby care—it’s easy to forget about our pearly whites while prepping the nursery or tending to the marathon of diaper changes, feedings, naps, and playtime. So we cut some of the work out for you and did a little Q & A about teeth with Dr. Craig Rechkemmer, a general dentist who focused on treating children for the past ten years.
Is there anything pregnant mothers can do to help their unborn baby’s dental development as well as protect their own teeth and gums?
The best thing you can do to support prenatal development for your baby is to take prenatal vitamins and maintain overall good nutrition, including foods that are high in calcium.
Pregnant women have a higher gum disease rate due to hormone changes, so they are a larger concern for mom. Expectant mothers need to be very diligent about oral hygiene and keep up with their regular dental visits. Flossing while pregnant becomes especially important. It’s also a good idea to use mouthwash on a regular basis to help maintain healthy gums. Some studies show that chewing gum that contains xylitol can also help reduce the occurrence of cavities.
Does formula/breastmilk have different effects on an infant’s dental health? If so, what are these effects?
There is no difference between formula and breastmilk in relation to an infant’s dental health. Once a baby has teeth, starting at about six months, both formula and breastmilk need to be wiped off of the baby’s teeth after each feeding. This will help prevent the build up of cavity-causing bacteria. You can use a soft cloth, or a soft finger brush with rubber bristles to do this. I like to say, “Water won’t rot your teeth—everything else will.” That includes breastmilk, formula, cow milk, fruit juice, and other flavored drinks. This is also why it is important not to put baby to bed with a bottle.
When should parents begin taking children to the dentist? Why is this first visit so important at this time?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children visit the dentist starting at age one, and I completely agree. This sets the stage for early prevention. With these first visits, if the dentist sees that there are problems developing, there are preventative measures that can be taken to avoid having to get cavities fixed later on. A one-year-old visit is typically a lap exam—mom or dad lays the child across their lap, and the dentist examines the child in the parent’s lap, and the dentist examines the child in the parent’s lap. This first visit also helps get young children comfortable with the dentist and the process of a dental exam. Most dentists’ goal is to have cavity-free patients, so the earlier we start with preventative care, the better.