Hi everyone! My name is Dr. Ashley Lerman – I’m a board-certified pediatric dentist and the founder and CEO of Firstgrin.
After completing my pediatric dental degree at Columbia University, I started working at a family dentist office in private practice where I recognized the amount of misinformation and lack of personalized information provided to parents for their babies on oral health, which inspired me to start Firstgrin.
Firstgrin helps improve the lives of caregivers and children by eliminating the surplus of information (and misinformation) about oral health care online by creating a central hub for education, products, and access. We send age and developmentally appropriate products to pregnant, peri-partum, and postpartum parents. Along with preventive oral health education, which are normally not covered in-office or in the pediatric medical setting.
We aim to re-write the dental narrative in a holistic way and connect the mouth to the rest of the body by focusing on nutrition, behavior, and habits for a strong, healthy mouth throughout life. Poor oral health for pregnant moms have consequences such as preeclampsia, low birth weight, and early labor. Additionally, cavities (which are the #1 childhood disease) in the baby teeth are directly correlated to cavities in the adult teeth, which also have consequences on overall health. Setting early healthy habits sets a strong foundation for kids to grow up so they can foster healthy mouths.
We are all about practicality since we know parents are busy and we emphasize actionable tips and information!
Remember: every child will be different, with his or her own timeline, with his or her own needs. An adult should supervise all oral care practices for children.
How To Keep Your Baby’s Teeth & Gums Healthy
♡ Teething can start as early as 4 months
This can be confusing since nothing is “in” the mouth yet. Some symptoms may include irritability, drooling, fever. Look for white blanching of the gum, swollen areas that create a “bulge.” The first teeth come in around 6 months and they are the bottom two. All the baby teeth erupt around 33 months (every child is different and this can range). All baby teeth are lost by around age 13. So we hang on to them for a while and want to keep them healthy!
Tip: soak a washcloth partially in water, breastmilk, or formula and freeze for about 15 minutes, thaw for a few minutes, and use for a teething toy, visit www.yourfirstgrin.com/teething-tips for more tips on teething.
♡ Start brushing the gums when there are no teeth
I know this sounds silly, but it helps down the line. Massaging the gums helps alleviate teething discomfort and desensitizes the mouth. Which gets the baby used to the feeling of brushing in the future.
Tip: gum massager finger brushes and banana brushes are great introductory instruments to get a baby used to the sensation of brushing.
♡ Introduce an open cup at 6 months old
Using a bottle or sippy cup for an extended period of time requires a persistent sucking motion that prevents development of a proper swallowing pattern. The pattern allows liquid to pool around the teeth, which can increase the risk of cavities as well as misalignment of the teeth. Introducing open cups around 6 months promotes proper oral development and fosters hand-eye coordination. Proper oral development is creating balance of the oral muscles to allow the jaw to grow properly.
Straw cups are socially the norm and they allow proper oral development while also giving parents a more convenient and less messy option.
Tip: you can introduce an open cup around 6 months or when your baby is sitting unsupported. Once your baby can successfully swallow water from an open rim, you can introduce a straw. Even though the goal is to “introduce” an open or straw cup early, this does not mean your baby is expected to learn it at this early age. It can take a lot of time and patience before your baby develops proper musculature and coordination to be able to drink independently and successfully.
♡ Floss wherever the teeth touch
Flossing isn’t age dependent! Between the teeth is the most common place where kids get cavities. And it’s most often due to lack of flossing. Usually teeth start to touch around 2-3, when the baby molars erupt, but sometimes even earlier. Flossing is not easy – it’s a habit that is hard to implement even for adults. It’s stressful for parents, especially on top of all of the brushing struggles. It is low priority with all of the other challenges of parenthood. Here are some tips:
Tips: Set realistic and achievable goals, start introducing the concept before the teeth touch, so your child won’t fear flossing once they actually NEED to floss, and let your child play with floss or watch you floss.
If you can’t floss the entire mouth, focus only on the areas where the teeth touch. Rotate which location you start flossing. Take baby steps to desensitize your child to the concept and sensation of floss. Start with one spot first, then add a second a week later. Even flossing ONE spot a night is a HUGE success in helping your little one build the habit and understand that it is part of their routine. It may be hard for your child to hold a floss pick. So be sure to give them a hand, use a mirror, and always supervise flossing.
♡ Pay attention to snacking frequency
The more frequently we graze or snack (liquids other than water included), the more often the teeth are exposed to acid, which weaken the teeth and increase cavity risk. For example, a juice box in one sitting is healthier than sipping on a juice box for a few hours. If the teeth are exposed to the juice for a few hours, they weaken and are susceptible to cavities. The same goes for any snack: a handful of crackers at once is better for the teeth than a handful of crackers over a few hours. Since the crunchy foods will sit in the grooves of the teeth undisturbed and increase cavity risk.
Tip: Ideally, after snacks, meals, or juice, complete the meal with a sip of non-carbonated water to help rinse and neutralize the mouth. As well as help clean out the grooves of the teeth. This minor act helps the mouth a lot.
♡ Pacifier weaning
Pacifiers are a useful soothing tooth in the newborn and infant years, but extended use during times of play, vocalization, jaw development, etc. can impact speech development/articulation as your child gets older. From a developmental perspective, it’s a great soothing mechanism, but our older toddlers can be taught other coping skills where a pacifier will no longer be necessary.
Tip: The goal is to wean the pacifier by 3 years of age. Some approaches include:
+ cold turkey – throwing it away or having them throw it away
The child may happily give it up, or it may involve some tears for a few days. So make sure to reassure them, get down to their level when they are sad, redirect them to other activities, verbally applaud their bravery, and teach breathing exercises when they are calm.
+ planting the pacifier in a garden – this is a popular method
Plant the pacifier with them and tell them something exciting will be there in the morning. After they go to sleep, put flowers or balloons where the pacifier used to be. Watch them get excited seeing how their pacifier turned into magic!
+ use the “Pacifier Fairy”
Have them put the pacifier underneath their pillow or in their crib. In the middle of the night, replace it with a new loving item.
+ throw a “bye-bye pacifier” party
Celebrate them being a big kid now and have a celebration to remind them of how proud they should be of themselves for no longer needing the pacifier.
Remember, removal of a pacifier in the toddler years is NOT a bad thing. There may be tears, so consider options that work for you and your child. If there are tears, remember that these tears are not harmful and can be met with compassion, understanding, and redirection. Be patient, consistent, and persistent with whichever method you choose.
When developing Firstgrin, my goal was to maximize oral health from early on. So I curated a newborn oral care kit for caregivers which includes a selection of tools and practical information designed to foster healthy teeth, mouths, and bodies from childhood into adulthood.
For more information, practical tips, and to order a newborn oral care kit of your own, please visit www.yourfirstgrin.com or find us on Instagram @firstgrin.
Oh, & be sure to use the code TSC22 for free shipping on your order.
Let me know what you think!
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