Early childhood tooth decay is the number one most common disease in children.
In Part 1 of this blog, we covered some essential information we think all new parents need to know about infant and toddler oral health. Check out that blog to learn about the important role of baby teeth, the nutritional causes of early childhood tooth decay, and dietary prevention tips. In Part 2, we dive deeper into the nutrition of early childhood oral health, introducing the nutritional requirements for the development of healthy bones and teeth, and outline the steps you can take to build a strong foundation of lifelong oral health for your child.
When should I start caring for my baby’s teeth?
The best infant oral care begins during the baby’s early development during pregnancy. A pregnant person’s diet will influence the development of healthy bones and teeth for their unborn baby. Prenatal nutrition is essential not only for the mom’s oral health during the hormonal changes of pregnancy but equally for the overall healthy development of the baby—including their tiny bones and teeth. Ensuring proper nutrition from the start of your child’s life will also significantly reduce their chances of needing orthodontic treatments later in life.
Prenatal nutrition for healthy infant teeth.
Talk to your pediatric dentist about prenatal and infant nutrition for tips and guidance on what to eat during pregnancy, and how to introduce the right foods to your baby to support the development of healthy bones and teeth. Check out the following instagram accounts for information and ideas about the dietary requirements for good oral health:
Newborn oral care:
- Clean infant gums after feeding whenever possible. Use a wet washcloth wrapped around the finger to gently wipe and massage the gums.
- For breastfed infants, breast milk is the only source of nutrition for a newborn, so the mother’s diet should be nutrient dense and include collagen or gelatin, vitamins A, D and K2.
- For bottle or formula-fed infants, ensure the baby is getting nutrients, minerals and the above vitamins.
When your baby is 6 months old or as soon as the first baby teeth emerge:
- Maintain sufficient collagen or gelatin, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin K2 in your baby’s diet, whether they are breastfed, formula-fed, and/or transitioning to solid foods.
- Start cleaning the little teeth twice daily with non-fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled baby brush, as your child gets older begin teaching them how to spit out the toothpaste.
- Brush with hydroxyapatite toothpaste to strengthen and mineralize tooth enamel naturally.
- Start infant flossing when there are two or more teeth beside one another that are touching.
- Look at the new teeth every day and become familiar with the normal appearance of teeth and gums in your child’s mouth so you’ll notice any early signs of decay as soon as they present.
- Every time you brush the teeth, look for brown or white spots on the teeth, which may indicate early decay or cavity formation and should be seen by a dentist as soon as possible.
- Schedule their first dental appointment. Whether you notice signs of decay or not, your child should see a dentist 6 months after the eruption of their first tooth.
- Start introducing solid foods at 6 months to supplement nutritional needs not met by breastmilk alone. Ensure your child gets plenty of fat-soluble vitamins via full-fat, whole foods.
- Know what foods increase cavity formation and avoid these when introducing solids to your baby.
Begin the process of introducing solid foods at 6 months.
Babies’ nutritional needs increase after 6 months of age, after which time breastmilk alone doesn’t offer sufficient nutrition for babies’ orofacial development. Gradually start introducing solids at the age of 6 months—this doesn’t necessarily mean you should be weaning at this time, although you may choose to. As long as the baby is being introduced to solid foods, breastfeeding can happen for as long as is preferred by the mother and baby. If your child hasn’t begun transferring to solids by the age of 1 year, they will be at risk for developing childhood tooth decay, crooked teeth, and underdeveloped jaws.
Many parents don’t consider that solid foods are crucial for the development of the child’s jaw and tooth strength. As baby teeth cut through the gums, pressure signals are sensed by the trigeminal nerve which runs through the ligament of teeth down into the jawbone. These signals tell the body to build bone and develop joints in that area. In order to generate these signals responsible for teeth and jawbone to develop, your child needs to begin chewing! Introducing nutritionally dense foods will help your baby build strong bones, a strong immune system and ward off tooth decay.
Rethinking childhood diets.
Most people know that sugary foods and drinks cause cavities, but most don’t think about refined carbohydrates like processed cereals and foods with white flour—these are are digested in the body as sugar and feed sugar-hungry oral bacteria in a similar way, creating an acidic environment in the mouth and putting the tooth enamel in danger. Many of the convenient, quick foods children are taught to love are actually bad for their oral health; breads, cereals, pastas, baked goods, pretzels, crackers, chips, fruit and even dried fruit and fruit juice. By introducing different, teeth-healthy foods from infancy, you can form new dietary habits that support oral health for your entire family and teach kids to crave less sugary, carb-dense foods void of nutrition needed for healthy development.
Your child’s early meals matter for the development of healthy teeth.
During the first years of your child’s life, even before the teeth break through the gums, they need fat-soluble vitamins that mineralize their teeth such as A, D, E and K2. These are vital for the baby to absorb enough calcium and other minerals to fortify the protective shell called enamel around the baby teeth. Meals high in sugar and low in fat-soluble vitamins such as pureed fruit and cereal high in carbs do nothing to support the mineralization of baby teeth. Feeding them breakfasts that contain protein, collagen, full-fat milk, eggs, and mineral-dense meats (organ meat) will help them grow healthy jaw and teeth and also stabilize their blood sugar for less mood swings throughout the day!
Try these foods in place of foods high in sugars and carbs:
- Bacon, ham
- Bone broth and soups with animal fat
- Grilled or smoked salmon
- Full-fat milk, yogurt or kefir
- Cottage cheese
- Cheese and pepperoni sticks
- Veggies and hummus
- Sausages and sauerkraut
- Baked vegetables: carrot, cauliflower, pumpkin, zucchini, sweet potato
- Cod liver oil supplements
- Nuts and nut butter
Get ahead of your child’s oral health with support from a pediatric dentist at BLOK Dental.
Becoming a parent can be overwhelming at the best of times. The pediatric dentistry team at BLOK Dental is here for you! Connect with us for support, advice and guidance around your child’s oral health, which begins with a positive first dental visit and proper prenatal and postnatal nutrition.