National Smile Month is a charity campaign all about championing the benefits of having good oral health and promoting the value of a healthy smile. Between 15 May and 15 June, the Oral Health Foundation will be raising awareness of important health issues and ready to put a smile on everybody’s face.
The mouth is one of your greatest assets. It helps you to communicate your thoughts and emotions, and gives you extra confidence in your relationships, social life and career. Your mouth is important for speaking, eating and drinking and breathing. Because of this, it makes sense to give your smile (and your mouth) the best care possible. During National Smile Month we will give you tips about how to keep your mouth healthy and give you advice about what to look out for if things are not going so well. Mouth health includes the teeth, gums, tongue and lips – and we’ll be giving you all the support you need to keep each of these in great shape.
We have compiled a list of FAQ to help answer the key questions.
Why is dental care for mother and baby important?
Your dental health can suffer during your pregnancy. It is important to look after both you and your baby’s dental health in the early months of your baby’s life to help make sure you both have healthy mouths in the future. There may also be a link between good gum health and good birth outcomes: for example, you may be less likely to have your baby early if you have healthy gums.
Do I need to see my dentist during pregnancy?
Yes you do. Because of hormone changes during pregnancy, you may notice that your gums bleed more easily and therefore regular check-ups are especially important during this time.
Why are my gums bleeding?
You may notice that your gums become sore and swollen during pregnancy, and they may bleed. This is due to hormone changes in your body. It is important that you visit your dentist regularly during this time and you made need further appointments for thorough cleaning to help keep plaque and tartar from building up and advice from your dental team about how to care for your teeth at home.
Is dental treatment safe during pregnancy?
Yes. You are advised to maintain regular routine appointments during this time. If you require treatment during this time discuss this with your dentist and talk through your options. Some current guidelines suggest that old amalgam fillings should not be removed during pregnancy, and that new ones should not be put in. Speak to your dentist about having a different type of filling if you are unsure.
What if I need dental x-rays?
Dentists prefer to avoid dental x-rays during pregnancy if possible. However, if you need root canal treatment you may need to have an x-ray but your dentist will discuss this with you.
Does pregnancy cause damage to teeth?
No. Pregnancy does not cause tooth problems through a lack of calcium, or that you will lose one tooth for each child you have.
What about smoking and alcohol in pregnancy?
Smoking and drinking during pregnancy should be avoided. This can lead to an underweight baby and also affect your unborn baby’s dental health. If your baby is underweight it is more likely to have poor teeth because of the tooth enamel not being formed properly. The adult teeth are already growing in the jaws, below the baby teeth, when your baby is born. So some babies whose mothers smoke and drink in pregnancy will have badly formed adult teeth too.
When will my baby’s teeth appear?
Your baby should start teething at around 6 months old and will continue until all 20 baby teeth come through. At around 6 years old, the adult teeth will begin to appear. This will continue until all the adult teeth, except the wisdom teeth, have come through at around 14 years old.
What about my diet during pregnancy?
When you are pregnant it is important that you have a healthy, balanced diet that has all the vitamins and minerals you and your baby need.
You need to have a good diet so that your baby’s teeth can develop. Calcium in particular is important, to help produce strong bones and healthy teeth. Dairy products contain Calcium such as milk, cheese etc.
If you experience morning sickness you may want to eat ‘little and often’. If you are often sick you should rinse your mouth afterwards with plain water to prevent the acid in your vomit attacking your teeth. During this time you should try to avoid sugary and acidic foods and drinks between meals. This will protect your teeth against decay.
Is teething painful?
Yes, most children do suffer some teething pains. Babies sometimes have a high temperature when they are teething and their cheeks may look red and be warm to the touch.
You can buy special teething gels that you can use to help reduce the pain from your local pharmacist and some supermarkets. There are some that contain a mild analgesic (painkiller). You apply the gel using your finger, and gently massage it onto your baby’s gums.
You can also buy teething rings that can also help to soothe your baby. Certain teething rings can be cooled in the fridge, which may help. But, as teething pains can vary, it is best to check with your dental team or doctor.
When should I take my baby to the dentist for the first time?
We usually suggest that you take your baby to your own routine check-ups. This can help the baby to get used to the surroundings. We will be able to offer advice and prescribe medicines for teething pains, and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have. The baby’s own check-ups can start any time from about 6 months or from when the teeth start to appear.
Does breastfeeding affect my baby’s teeth?
Breast milk is the best food for babies, and it is recommended that you your baby breast milk during the first six months of its life.
At six months old, babies can start eating some solid foods. You should still keep breast feeding, or give breast milk substitutes (or both), after the first six months.
There needs to be more research to see whether, in some cases, the natural sugars in breast milk cause tooth decay in babies. However, it is widely accepted that breast milk is the best food for your baby. If you keep your baby’s teeth clean, tooth decay is unlikely to be a problem.
What about bottle feeding?
When feeding with a bottle, you must sterilise the bottle properly. Some breast milk substitutes contain sugar and you should clean your baby’s teeth after the last feed at night. You should try to leave an hour after the feed before cleaning your baby’s teeth.
Never add sugar or put sugary drinks into the bottle. Milk and water are the best drinks for babies teeth. Bottle feeding with drinks containing sugar can lead to ‘bottle caries’ (tooth decay). A baby is not born with a sweet tooth and will only have a taste for sugar if it is given it at an early age.
When should I stop bottle feeding?
Stopping bottle feeding early can help stop your baby from developing dental problems. At about six months old or when you baby is able to sit up and hold things on their own you should try to get them to drink milk or water from a cup.
What solid foods are better for my baby?
Savoury foods such as cheese, pasta and vegetables are better try to avoid sweet foods. Food that doesn’t contain sugar is better for your baby’s teeth. Ask your health professional for more advice about what foods are best for a balanced diet for your baby.
It is important to give you child between meals only water or milk instead of sugary or acidic drinks, which can cause decay.
When should I start cleaning my baby’s teeth?
Babies are obviously not able to clean their own teeth, and will need help to make sure that they clean them properly until they are about 7 years old. As soon as teething has started you should start cleaning your child’s teeth.
How should I clean my baby’s teeth?
As soon as the first baby teeth start to appear you should start to clean them.
At first you can use a piece of clean gauze or cloth wrapped around your forefinger. As more teeth appear, you will need to use a baby toothbrush.
Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and gently massage it around the teeth and gums.
If you cradle your baby’s head in your arms in front of you can be easier.
As your child gets older you can gradually give them more responsibility for cleaning their teeth. It is important to clean teeth twice a day with a toothpaste that contains at least 1000ppm (parts per million) of fluoride. After 3 years old, use a toothpaste that contains 1350ppm to 1500ppm. Make sure that they do not rinse with water but spit out the toothpaste, and that they don’t swallow any if possible.
Check with our dental team or doctor if you are unsure about how to look after your baby’s teeth.
What if my baby sucks its thumb or needs a dummy?
Avoid using a dummy if you can, and discourage thumb sucking. These can both eventually cause problems with how the teeth grow and develop. This may cause them to need treatment with a brace when the child gets older.
If your baby uses a dummy, soother or pacifier, there are ‘orthodontic’ ones that reduce the risk of these problems. So if your baby does want to use a dummy, you should choose an orthodontic one.
Never dip your baby’s dummy, soother, pacifier or teething ring into fruit syrups, honey, fruit juices or anything containing sugars, particularly at bedtime. Harmful sugars and acids can attack your baby’s newly formed teeth and cause decay.
What if my baby damages a tooth?
If your child damages a tooth, contact your dental team straight away. A damaged tooth will often discolour over time.
If the damage happens outside normal opening hours, you will need to contact NHS 111.