Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On Teeth

Incredibly, GI still has no teeth. I say incredibly, although it's not especially rare for an eight-month-old (well, eight months this coming Saturday) to still be toothless, because both NJ and SB had at least one tooth by this age. I'm enjoying the break before the inevitable teething adventure to come, but GI has been threatening to grow teeth for months now, so it surprises me that he hasn't managed to erupt one or more by now. You can see all eight front teeth just below the gum line just dying to come through, but there are no sharp edges yet!

On the subject of teeth, I took NJ and SB to the dentist yesterday. Both came through with a clean bill of health. NJ doesn't have any wiggly teeth yet, at 5-1/2. I'm not that shocked, since I didn't lose my first tooth until I was seven, but I was kind of hoping. You see, when NJ was about 27 months, he fell and ruined one of his top front teeth. It didn't fall out, but it died, and it's brown. So he's got this brown tooth in front, in an otherwise pristine set of teeth, and I'm looking forward to when he finally loses it naturally and grows in a beautiful, white permanent tooth. SB's teeth are gorgeous, white, pearly things. I think we may be lucky in that they got my good teeth. I didn't have a cavity until I was 27, nor did I have braces or any other treatment except sealants on my 12-year molars and then my wisdom teeth removed at 20. So if our kids are genetically predisposed to have teeth like mine, I'm good with that! (In the eye department, we're hoping they have their father's eyes. Nobody would want my almost-legally-blind glasses prescription.)

NJ and SB are both very good about brushing their teeth. Indeed, they seem to enjoy doing it. I certainly don't discourage them.

I was pleasantly surprised about how cooperative both kids were about getting their teeth cleaned and checked.  NJ had all sorts of questions about the equipment and displays and stuff in the room. The hygienist was amused and enjoyed it.

As for growing teeth, I have absolutely no advice as far as how to ease the pain or the transition. Every kid is different. Some kids barely notice teething, while others are terribly unhappy for a few days as a tooth erupts. Typically, once the tooth cuts through and you can feel it above the gum, the symptoms ease (until the next tooth). Remember, they need to get 16 teeth in the first two years, plus four more molars around two years of age. I'm so glad I don't remember being a baby!

I can tell you that it is absolutely possible to nurse a baby with teeth. If they are latched properly, you should not feel the teeth at all. Sometimes they have to learn to adjust their latch with the appearance of a new tooth, but the "retraining" shouldn't last more than a day or two. There is absolutely no merit to the myth that you have to stop breastfeeding when they get teeth. The only issue to be concerned about is biting. A teething baby might bite to relieve discomfort, or a baby with teeth might bite just to see what will happen. The best way to respond to a bite during nursing is to pop them off immediately (use your finger to break the suction and open the jaw first!), tell them "No bite!" firmly, and wait a minute before allowing them to come back to the breast. A baby needs to learn that biting is not acceptable behavior, and that biting will result in not nursing. If you yelp or otherwise make a funny noise (which you probably will do) but there is no consequence, the baby might think it's funny and bite again just to get the funny reaction. Fortunately, SB wasn't much of a biter, so I didn't have to worry about this too much. GI has bitten down a couple of times so far, but he doesn't have teeth yet, so it hurts, but it doesn't hurt. If you know what I mean.

Breastfeeding, incidentally (or topically) aids in the proper development of jaw and teeth, as well. The muscles and suction used in nursing pull the jaw and hard palate into the proper position and shape, reducing dental and orthodontic problems later in life. So you have that as yet another argument for breastfeeding, and continuing to breastfeed even after teeth erupt. Also, breastfeeding at night is not associated with a higher incidence of infant tooth decay. When a baby sleeps with a bottle in his mouth, milk/formula/juice can pool around the teeth, encouraging tooth decay and causing "bottle caries" in young infants. Breastfeeding at night, however, does not allow the pooling of milk around the teeth. In addition, breastmilk has antibacterial properties, so the breastmilk is actually killing the bacteria that lead to tooth decay. So you don't have to worry about that, either! Go ahead and keep on nursing your teething baby!

The only issue you may have to deal with in a teething baby is that some babies find nursing painful when they're teething. The pressure generated by nursing sometimes can compound the pressure of the teeth coming in, causing pain. Most babies will want to nurse more, as the counter-pressure is usually soothing, but some babies may reject the breast during the intense period just before a tooth comes in. Don't give up. Keep offering the breast, and possibly treat the pain with ibuprofen or Tylenol, and he'll come back to it when he gets hungry, or when the tooth comes in.

As far as my teeth go, they're in pretty good shape. Pregnancy and breastfeeding can weaken the mineral deposits in the mouth, causing thinning of the enamel and cavities. In addition, your immune system is typically depressed when pregnant and nursing, which means the oral flora can be affected as well, which can cause gingivitis and other periodontal problems. I seem to be fortunate in that I haven't seen too many ill effects. One thing I have noticed, though, is that I often clench my jaw when I'm nursing the baby, which is a very bad habit, and my teeth sometimes ache from that. I try to remember to relax my jaw and not tuck my chin down into my chest when I'm nursing.

And that's just about all I have to say about teeth right now.

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