In observing National Children's Dental Health Month this February, the American Dental Association (ADA) says pregnant women can help ensure their children get a good start on their oral health by focusing on staying healthy, including a proper diet, because teeth begin developing between the third and sixth month of pregnancy.
Making wise nutrition and food choices during pregnancy can help avoid malnutrition that later may bring on hypoplasia, a condition characterized by inadequate development of the infant's tooth enamel. It is important for pregnant women to receive sufficient amounts of nutrients, including calcium, protein, phosphorous and vitamins A, C and D.
If the enamel or hard surface that protects the tooth from decay does not develop properly in the fetus while in the mother's womb, that infant will be at higher risk for tooth decay when teeth begin to erupt.
"Moms-to-be have been schooled to eat right and avoid tobacco products and alcohol while pregnant to reduce the risk of birth defects and illnesses," said Dr. Kimberly Harms, a general dentist from the Minneapolis area and ADA consumer advisor. "Focusing on healthy behaviors will also help protect the newborn infant's oral health and ensure the child's teeth develop correctly."
Once the child is born, many parents wait until teeth appear before caring for the child's mouth.
"However, the ADA recommends parents wipe the infant's gums with clean gauze after each feeding to control the accumulation of plaque and to establish such simple care as part of the daily routine," said Dr. Harms.
Once the first tooth comes in, often by six months of age, parents should begin brushing the tooth. Toothpaste may be used after the age of two and then only a pea-sized amount, she emphasized.
"The first year is crucial for both parent and child," said Dr. Harms. "The ADA recommends parents take their child to the dentist within six months of eruption of the first tooth, and no later than 12 months of age, so that the dentist can evaluate the child's oral health status and provide preventive oral health education for parents."
At the first visit, parents may wish to discuss a number of oral health topics with the dentist, including the stages of oral development, diet and nutrition (including the appropriate use of bottles and training cups), fluoride needs and injury prevention and trauma management.
This February marks the 53rd Annual National Children's Dental Health Month celebration, the only national children's dental health promotion recognized by the ADA and its state and local dental societies. This year's theme is "Don't Let Your Smile Become Extinct."