Why it’s essential to care for baby teeth

Posted on 30 August 2017

Even before they start teething, babies will benefit from meticulous dental care. Experts weigh in on what parents can do to help.

Milk teeth (also known as primary or deciduous teeth) are an important part of early child development and have several functions, says Dr Jonathan Cohen, a dentist at Mediclinic Milnerton. ‘They are necessary for your child to learn to speak, as well as for chewing and eating. They also provide space for the developing permanent teeth and help guide them into their correct positions. Good healthy teeth also help your child gain self confidence.’

If your child’s teeth are not properly cared for, it can result in tooth decay, which can lead to infection and abscess formation and eventual early loss of teeth, Dr Cohane adds.

Dental disease is a common form of disease across the globe. ‘The good news is that dental disease is often preventable,’ says President of the Paedodontic Society of South Africa, Dr Janet Gritzman, adding that good dental habits should start at birth.

‘When you bath your baby, clean the inside of her mouth with a dampened piece of gauze wrapped around your finger to help keep the gums clean,’ says Dr Gritzman. ‘Do the same after feeds and before bedtime. This routine ensures that no bacteria clings to the gums, leaving behind a sticky plaque that damages infant teeth as they come in.’

Dr Gritzman warns against putting your infant to bed with a bottle of juice, sweetened drink or even milk, as this can cause ‘baby bottle decay’ – also known as nursing caries. ‘Plain water is the safest drink for your baby between feeding times,’ she says.

Once your baby starts teething (at around six months old), clean and sterilise anything she chews on regularly (teething rings or favourite toys) to keep her mouth as germ-free as possible.

And the minute those all-important milk teeth erupt, it’s time to start gentle brushing. ‘Sit your baby on your lap and gently cradle her chin with one hand. Choose a small-headed brush, preferably electric and a minimal (rice-sized) drop of fluoride toothpaste,’ Dr Gritzman suggests. ‘Make sure the teeth are brushed outside, inside and top.’ Rub a small amount of Tooth Mousse (an oral health product containing calcium and phosphate) onto the teeth with your finger before going to bed at night.

Dr Cohen recommends taking your child for their first dentist visit around their first birthday. ‘Apart from ensuring your baby’s porous milk teeth are free of decay, a dentist will spot potential issues with the growth and development of your baby’s jaw and soft palate.’


In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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