While your toothless darling's oral hygiene may not be high on your priority list in the first months after you give birth, this is something you should think about from day one. Babies aren't born with the kinds of bacteria in their mouths that can give them dental problems later like tooth decay; however, these bacteria may be introduced into a baby's system via the people who look after them.
If parents pass their oral bacteria on to their babies, their children may be more likely to develop dental problems as their teeth come through. How can you avoid transferring your oral bacteria to your baby?
Keep Your Own Mouth Healthy
You can reduce the amount of oral bacteria in your mouth by maintaining a good level of dental hygiene. Ideally, you should brush your teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day; using an antibacterial mouthwash may also help. Getting into the habit of brushing your tongue is also a good idea. The tongue is home to at least 50% of your oral bacteria, so it makes sense to keep your tongue clean as well as your teeth and gums.
Bear in mind that you're more likely to pass oral bacteria to your child if you have untreated tooth decay. It's important to see your dentist regularly to make sure that any problems you do have with your teeth or gums are treated quickly.
Tip: Chewing on a sugar-free gum that contains xylitol after meals and snacks is a quick and easy way of reducing oral bacteria on top of daily brushing and flossing. Xylitol may be able to get rid of up to 90% of the bacteria that lives in your mouth.
As well as looking after your own bacteria levels, you also need to be aware of how you might transfer your bacteria to your baby's mouth.
Avoid Transferring Bacteria
There are some things that you naturally do as a parent that may transfer saliva, and your bacteria, into your child's mouth. For example, if your child uses a dummy and drops it, you may think that it's more hygienic to clean it off in your mouth than to put it back into your baby's mouth. While this may clean off floor dirt and germs, it may also transfer your bacteria into your baby's mouth. The same kind of thing may happen if you blow on food to cool it down or use your baby's spoon to taste food to check its temperature.
While it's a good idea to reduce the incidences where you may transfer bacteria, you may not always find this easy or appropriate. Technically, you can transfer bacteria by kissing your baby or by allowing your baby to put fingers or a hand in your mouth. Nobody would recommend that you stop doing this kind of thing, and you need to use your common sense here. As an added defence against any bacteria you can't help transferring, it's vital to start cleaning your baby's mouth regularly.
Keep Your Baby's Mouth Healthy
Your child may not have teeth yet; however, you can reduce the oral bacteria that might come into the mouth and cause problems later by cleaning your baby's gums once or twice a day with a clean damp cloth. You can also buy gum wipes to do this job; for an added bacteria-busting benefit, look for wipes that contain xylitol.
Bear in mind that your bacteria fighting days aren't over once your baby's teeth start to come through. It's important to start cleaning your baby's teeth as soon as they appear. If your child doesn't like you using a baby toothbrush, you may find it easier to carry on doing this with a cloth initially. For more information on caring for your baby's oral health, contact your dentist.