Oral Hygiene Before Teeth – The Benefits are Numerous! 

Did you know babies can benefit from an oral hygiene routine before their teeth are even present? In fact, The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends starting an oral hygiene routine within the first few days of your baby’s life. Why, you ask? Put simply, it’s all about familiarizing your child with the various pressures, textures, and sensations in their mouth as this task is being done. This will help your child in the future when they need to start brushing their teeth and can also help make food introductions easier when starting solids.

Keep reading below to see what Registered Dental Hygienist Katie Steger, aka Healthyteeth.fortots, has to say about the benefits involved.

Wait – Oral hygiene can make my baby eat better?

According to speech and feeding therapist Jenny McGlothlin MS, CCC-SLP, it can! A baby’s mouth relays a lot of information to their sensory system regarding characteristics like size, shape, texture, pressure, and movement. That’s why it’s best to offer lots of opportunity for oral play for babies through use of teethers, and gum massages to build up their sensory system’s knowledge base. Once a baby begins to eat solid food at about 6 months old, they can use all this stored knowledge to help with the acceptance of a new food’s various characteristics. McGlothlin, in her work with children with feeding difficulties, says that lots of oral play in infancy can decrease picky eating in the long run by making these oral sensations familiar for the child.

As one of the most highly innervated areas in the human body, the mouth receives a lot of input, which can feel overwhelming for some children who find it much too stimulating. Children who experience this will often avoid certain foods out of fear and are typically averse to having their teeth brushed. That is why introducing oral play early and often is recommended.

Okay I’m sold! But, how do I do it?

The supplies needed to start an oral hygiene routine for your baby are minimal. You can use either a small washcloth dipped in warm water or a silicone finger brush. The choice is up to you.

You will start by placing your finger on the back of baby’s gums (where their molars will grow in) and tracing along the u-shaped border of the gums while applying gentle, but firm pressure. Your baby may cry, fuss, make a face, or turn their head the first few times you massage their gums in this manner, but I would not let that discourage you from continuing to try this daily. The more familiar your baby becomes with this massage, the more they will learn to accept it. Therefore, you will want to implement it consistently.

When is the best time of day to do this routine?

Doing it each day after a particular activity will help to easily establish a daily routine for both you and baby. If you’re not sure what times of the day are best for you, I would suggest doing oral hygiene after the baby’s morning feed, and after baby’s nighttime feed as you’re preparing them for bed. These are predictable events that happen each day, and they align with a regular toothbrushing schedule for adults. The easier you can make the schedule fit into your life, the easier it will be to remember.

Having a routine will also set you up for success once your baby’s first tooth grows in and it’s time to start caring for it. If your baby is already familiar with you working inside their mouth, they shouldn’t be particularly averse to toothbrushing. The toothbrush will just be another new, interesting tool you’re working with. In time your child will grow to learn that their mouth is cleaned daily to keep their teeth and gums healthy. But for now, they’ll just chalk it up to something that gets done every day, like having their diaper changed or being fed.

My baby is older – is to too late to start?

Not at all! Showing up late to the party doesn’t mean you can’t participate. Remember, the goal here is to familiarize your baby with all the varying sensations their sensory system is capable of learning. And it’s always learning! If however, you find that your baby has an extreme aversion to having their mouth touched during oral hygiene or while eating, it may be a good idea to let their pediatrician know. They may recommend a consult with a speech language pathologist, or pediatric occupational therapist to work with your child on  skills to help them better tolerate these oral sensations.

As you can see, the benefits of oral care implemented early has positive outcomes for your child that extend far greater than tooth health alone. Knowing all that you know now, will you start an oral care routine for your baby?

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Katie Steger is a registered dental hygienist living in West Virginia, United States. She is a mom of 2 and the creator of the Instagram platform Healthy Teeth for Tots. Katie is passionate about oral health education, raising awareness about dental anxiety, and helping parents to feel empowered with oral health decision making. She can be found on her social media doing silly dances with her infant, or on her website