Pediatric dentists have long been advocates of the first birthday dental checkup as a way to establish a dental home for young children. But perhaps more importantly, expecting parents need to be informed about the relevance of the pregnancy period to the development of their child’s teeth.
When prospective parents discover that they will be expecting their bundle of joy, they are inundated with an overwhelming amount of information, precipitating a flurry of activity such as ultrasounds, blood tests, genetic counseling, Lamaze classes, shopping for baby clothes, and more. So, who even thinks about teeth?
When I meet with expecting moms, I bring up 5 key points. I frame them as a personal conversation, not as a lecture. Asking them “Did you know…?” and saying “Believe it or not…” grabs their attention.
Did You Know #1
You’re probably aware that when you’re pregnant, your baby is very much dependent upon you for its sustenance. So, it behooves you take good care of yourself with a proper diet and nutrition and by refraining from using alcohol and tobacco, getting proper rest, making regular visits to your obstetrician, exercising as recommended by your doctor, and so on.
Also, you should report any unusual pain or bleeding, sometimes referred to as spotting, to verify that the umbilical attachment has not been compromised. When a woman experiences difficulties during a pregnancy, they can affect the overall development of the unborn fetus, and even tooth development can be negatively affected.
Did You Know #2
Your child’s baby teeth begin to form and calcify during the first trimester of your pregnancy. By the time your baby is born, the front baby teeth are almost fully formed, and the crowns of the back baby teeth are complete. In fact, in some children, the 6-year molars (permanent teeth) have begun to form. Anything that disturbs the baby’s metabolism can cause teeth to develop discolorations or abnormal shapes and sizes. Sometimes, they may be missing altogether.
Did You Know #3
When your baby is born prematurely, or if delivery is prolonged or difficult, it can result in a temporary disturbance in the calcification of the teeth, which would then erupt with abnormal discolorations or structural aberrations. This phenomenon is analogous to a tree going through a severe winter, resulting in a marked growth ring when the trunk is examined in cross section.
Did You Know #4
Whether your newborn baby is breast fed or bottle fed or both is strictly your decision with the advice of your doctor. But it is a well-accepted fact that babies who are given bottles with milk or sugary liquids at bedtime and babies who sleep with their moms and nurse at will have a much greater chance of developing serious dental decay. Infants should be fed, their mouths cleansed non-invasively by wiping or swabbing the gums with water, and then put to bed.
Did You Know #5
Pacifiers may seem beneficial in controlling an infant’s fussiness and crying. But you run the risk of the child developing such an abnormally strong dependence on the pacifier into the toddler years that it becomes a permanent obsession that is very difficult to interrupt.
Even the “blankie” with the satin edge becomes an issue as evidenced by 4-year-olds walking around dragging their blankets. Some parents even cut these blankets into sections so the child always has a piece of the blanket to schlep around. Blankets belong in bed. Rotate different blankets so the baby doesn’t develop an attachment to just one.
There are so many things we could and should discuss with parents in regard to where teeth come from, what to do before they get there, and how to care for them once they arrive.
Of course, you could simply hand a parent a printed pamphlet and say “Read this.” But nothing beats an intimate, one-on-one conversation. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, to paraphrase Casablanca. Personal communication is a sure way of establishing the kind of doctor-parent-patient relationship that’s so effective for building your practice.
Dr. Berman is an internationally recognized pediatric dentist with a career as a successful practitioner and as a popular world-class lecturer spanning more than 5 decades. He’s still one of the principal dentists in a thriving practice in Chicago. He has been an ambassador for dentistry as a health reporter on CBS (News Radio 78) and via media appearances as a consumer advisor for the ADA, the Chicago Dental Society, and the Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and as co-author of Essentials of Modern Dental Practice. He has published numerous articles and is a member of many professional and service organizations including honorary membership in the Hinman Dental Society. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.