October 21, 2019
by Lisa Hardill, RDH, BHADM
Dental Professionals should aim to teach soon-to-be parents about oral hygiene practices for their new baby even before the teeth arrive.
It is common practice to make time to discuss the oral health status of a mother during pregnancy. As we are all familiar with the risks associated with poor oral health and pregnancy, such as giving birth to a low weight baby1. However, an additional priority area should include a discussion on the oral hygiene practices for the baby when he or she arrives.
Understanding that even though infants do not have teeth, parents still need to keep their mouth clean, is a critical piece of communication. Dental professionals need to educate on the earlier the oral hygiene habits are formed, the more it can help decrease the risk for future dental cavities. This is a motivating factor for any parent.
This can be hard for parents to wrap their heads around because commonly they feel there is no risk if their baby does not have teeth. So, it’s a must to explain the biofilm (that can be microscopic) that commonly appears on teeth can also accumulate on the tongue and gums where the soon-to-be teeth will be popping out.
It’s all about creating an environment that is ready for those little pearly whites. Parents need to understand as that first tooth erupts it’s at risk for developing dental caries. When the practice of cleaning the mouth starts right from birth, it allows for a smooth transition when the teeth appear, and the time is needed in the oral cavity to clean the teeth.
Letting parents know as soon as the first tooth erupts is when they can start to using a soft damp cloth, specialized finger brush, or even small solo head brush to wipe the baby’s mouth. These are perfect tools to get around the gums, roof of the mouth, and cheeks. Having two parents work together when possible can be very helpful when using the knee-to-knee technique. This is something we can demonstrate for the parents during the dental visit. This involves having two adults sit facing each other with knees touching and having baby lay across the legs. It creates a great visual field for one of the adults and aids in child comfort2.
For images on knee-to-knee see https://www.cda-adc.ca/jcda/vol-75/issue-8/577.html
The goal would be to have parents understand the importance of wiping the mouth after each feeding or at least two times daily. When parents start to notice teeth appear it’s imperative the cleaning habits are formed. It’s only natural the more involved the parents are with oral care the higher chance for compliance during an oral health assessment at the dental office.
Having a conversation about when to expect teeth to erupt can lead to less surprises for the parents. This is also a great time to discuss the ideal products that may be considered. For young children under 3 years of age the introduction of a specific toothpaste (ie. fluoride and/or 25% xylitol) will depend on the current risk factors, and professional judgement.
Lastly, we as dental professionals need to continue to promote and educate the public on taking their baby to a dental provider for an assessment by their first birthday. As you can see there are many key points we need to review with parents to ensure the child’s oral heath starts off in the right direction.
I believe this is where we as dental professionals can make one of the greatest impacts within our industry!
About The Author
Lisa Hardill, RDH, BHADM, is a dental hygienist with experience in public health, independent and private practice, education, and sales within the industry. She is currently working with Oral Science as a Oral Health Consultant. Over the years, she has been involved in the dental hygiene field in numerous ways, including as a quality assurance peer assessor for the CDHO, as non-council member of the Registration Committee with the CDHO, Team Lead for Public Health Unit, and on the Board of Directors for Gift from the Heart.
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