The importance of dental health in the early years

The new infant feeding policy recently published by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) recognises the importance of dental health for infants and young children, and the important role it plays in early development. The document discusses the three main modifiable behaviours that can greatly impact on dental health. These include Feeding practices, dental hygiene and dietary habits.

Feeding practices, such as infants going to bed with a bottle or delayed weaning from a bottle to a beaker/cup is discouraged. You should try and introduce the beaker at around six months of age. Breastmilk and formula contain a natural sugar called lactose. Once the first tooth appears (usually at around 6 months or after), it is important to avoid unrestricted, ‘at-will’ consumption of an infant’s usual milk drink especially during the night.

Routine dental hygiene practices should be encouraged early in life. As soon a baby’s first tooth arrives, it is important to start brushing using a small soft tooth brush and tap water only. Brush in the morning and before going to bed at night. This will help protect against dental caries. Remember toothpaste is not recommended for children under 2 years.

Dietary practices can have a major impact on dental health. The affect it has is related to the amount and frequency of sugar consumed. Cariogenic foods, (foods that cause tooth decay) such as sugary foods, juices, sweetened drinks and added sugar should be limited in the diet. Nutritious foods such fresh fruits do contain natural sugars, but also contain many important vitamins, minerals and fibre, so these should not be excluded from your child’s diet. Other nutritious, tooth-friendly, snacks that can be offered include vegetables and cheese.

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First 1000 Days Team

Our expert team of dietitians and nutritionists have created lots of articles, tips, advice and recipes all about the importance of good nutrition to help you give your baby the healthiest possible start in life.

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