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Toothy Grins

Alisa Ikeda


Don't get too accustomed to that goofy gummy grin, Moms and Dads, because it's sure to turn toothy before you know it! Here's how to make the transition a smooth one and encourage bright smiles well into the future.

What to Expect

First teeth are know as baby teeth or primary teeth, and they allow your little one to chew food, better enunciate words, and make room for later permanent teeth. The first tooth is a milestone -- don't forget to snap a lot of photos and write the date down in the baby book!

Your baby's tooth buds began developing in the womb, but that first pearly white isn't likely to break through the gum until she is between three and twelve months old (on average, the first tooth appears between five and seven months of age). Baby teeth can appear in any order, but typically the bottom front appear first, followed by the top front, the sides, and then the back.

Occasionally, a baby will be born with a tooth; sometimes a child won't get her first until over a year. As long as your pediatrician is monitoring the progress, your little one should be in good shape. Tooth timing is hereditary, so ask your parents when your teeth first came in for an indication of what you can expect from your child.

By age three, most kids will be sporting all twenty teeth!

Teething Woes

Most babies will drool and gnaw on their toys -- and sometimes their parents! -- when teeth are coming in. Some will have noticeable gum redness and swelling where the new tooth is making its way through. Many parents say their children suffer from loose stools, diaper rash, runny noses, and low fevers when they're teething. (Experts don't entirely agree that these are symptoms of teething and caution parents not to overlook what could instead be an ear infection or something else requiring medical attention.)

Some babies sprout teeth without much fuss, and others struggle with each one. If your baby is uncomfortable, try minimizing her pain by: providing her with one-piece teething rings or pacifiers kept cold in the fridge;letting her gnaw on a cold wet washcloth;making popsicles from expressed breast milk;serving cold, soothing foods like cold breast milk or formula, applesauce, yogurt, and sorbet, or offering her a chilled carrot or apple (only if, of course, she's started solids and you're confident she won't choke, of course, and only under close supervision!);offering over-the-counter teething gels and pain relievers (under the guidance of a doctor).

Dental Care

Baby teeth remain until your child is five or six years of age, so it's important that you take -- and encourage your child to take -- good care of them.

As the first few teeth come in, it's not usually necessary to brush them. Instead, use a small, damp wash cloth (or a rubber finger "brush" from your dentist) and simply rub it against the gums and teeth (it'll be soothing to one who's in discomfort!). Start making it a twice-daily habit so brushing regularly will follow naturally.

At your baby's six-month check-up, your pediatrician may recommend fluoride supplements if your water isn't fluoridated (you can check with your local water authority in advance of your appointment to be sure). Fluoride strengthens enamel and helps prevent tooth decay.

At a year, parents often begin brushing their baby's teeth. Use a soft baby toothbrush and, if you like, a tiny dallop (about the size of a pea) of toothpaste. Don't use too much toothpaste, as it is likely to be swallowed. Brush the tongue, too.

Not all little ones appreciate your brushing their teeth. Many toddlers in fact fight the routine adamantly. Try to make it a fun exercise by doing it in front of the mirror. Brush your own teeth alongside your child and then make a game of inspecting one another's jobs afterward (that's when you swoop in and quickly finish hers!). Use a fun toothbrush, or maybe let her choose among several colors each time you brush. Consider brushing after a tickle session and then "tickling" her teeth with a toothbrush (hey -- whatever works!).

To minimize your child's chances for tooth decay, never put her to bed with a bottle (of juice or even formula or breast milk). Cut back on her sweet intake, and limit starchy foods like crackers and sticky foods like raisins to just before good brushing sessions. The longer foods stay on her teeth, the more her likelihood of developing decay.

Your child's first dental visit can take place anywhere from when the first tooth appears to three years of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends three years; check in with your individual dentist. Some parents opt for a pediatric dentist (a pedodontist); others use their family dental practice. Until your child goes to the dentist, she can have her dental care handled by the pediatrician (unless, of course, you or your doctor have concern).

Teeth in Trouble Discoloration: Baby tooth discoloration could be a sign of decay; consult a dentist if you have any worry.Accidents: Your little explorer is likely to take many spills over the coming years. If a tooth or teeth are knocked loose, take comfort in the fact that baby teeth often bounce back. If the area is bleeding, apply pressure with wet gauze until the bleeding stops. Offer popsicles to reduce swelling and tenderness, and call the pediatrician or dentist (also call if a tooth is chipped). Over the following week, watch for swelling, fever, or discomfort, which could indicate infection. Call the pediatrician or dentist immediately.

If you take good care of your baby's baby teeth, you'll have earned your Tooth Fairy status in no time!

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