Adults—concerned parents in particular—often find themselves asking, “Why do babies put everything in their mouth?” It seems like anything they can get their little hands on will, invariably, turn into a slobber-covered plaything. A brand-new rattle? Looks good for chomping. A moldy old grape that has been hiding under the sofa and is halfway to becoming a lint-dried raisin? Worth a try. A handful of worm-infested dirt? Sure, why not? If you’re not careful, even your cellphone could end up finding a second life as an improvised pacifier.
While it might seem to adults like our little rugrats have an unsophisticated—if enviably adventurous—palate, the truth is a little more complicated than that. And it will have an impact on their oral health and dental development.
Beyond simply thumb-sucking, find out why your baby puts everything in their mouth—and how to protect their oral and dental health as they chew through your magazine collection.
Your Baby is an Explorer
For babies, pretty much everything that they encounter is new—and very, terribly exciting. As your baby explores the world around them, they will put objects in their mouth as a method of discovery.
Whereas older children and adults will use their hands to test out new objects, babies do not yet have the motor skills or tactile strength to heft, squeeze or even poke a new, fascinating object. Additionally, your baby’s hands are not quite as developed or sensitive as their mouth is—in fact, a baby’s mouth has more densely packed nerve endings than any other part of their body. As a result, their hands just wouldn’t provide as much sensory feedback as their mouth, tongue, and gums would. They will learn more about an object’s toughness, texture, and, of course, taste if they can get it into their mouth.
Just like with any explorer on an expedition of discovery, however, not all of the objects that your baby encounters will be safe for putting in their mouth. Small items, for instance, present choking hazards while dirty items might be home to harmful pathogens. Sharp items could cut their lips and the interior of their mouth while hard items could lead to dental or oral injury.
Be sure that all of the items within your baby’s reach are safe for oral exploration. And when your baby learns how to crawl, they’ll be scurrying around, looking for something new to put in their mouth. Either confine them to a safe play space or clear potentially harmful objects from their path of exploration.
Your Baby’s Pearly White Smile is Coming In
Even for fully grown adults experiencing wisdom teeth eruption, teething can be a deeply discomforting process. For babies, that process can be downright painful.
Your baby’s first teeth will likely erupt somewhere between 6 and 12 months—no need for concern if they start a little earlier or later than that, however. During that time, your baby will likely be experiencing a great deal of discomfort. Biting down on something—anything they can find, really—can provide relief from the pain caused by sore gums from teething.
Unless you have reason to believe that your child is experiencing unusually severe symptoms—bleeding, swelling, or reddening of the gums, for example—you should let them chomp down to their heart’s content. Specifically designed teething toys such as rings and blankets can provide your baby with maximum comfort while they go through the difficult process of developing their winning smile.
Your Baby Just Needs a Little Self-Love
Everyone needs a little self-love and babies are no different. While adults might take a spa day or soak in the tub at home, your baby’s preferred self-soothing technique is to find something to put in their mouth.
Whether they are sleepy, hungry, too cold or too hot, or just plain old cranky, babies will oftentimes turn to oral stimulants to soothe their nerves. Psychologists haven’t reached any definitive conclusions quite yet but some research suggests that oral stimulation can mimic the feelings of safety, comfort and love that your baby receives when breast or bottle feeding.
Before they have pacifiers and chew toys, babies develop the tendency to put their hands and fingers in their mouth—thumb-sucking, in particular, is very popular with the diaper and daycare crowd. While you wouldn’t want to discourage your child from developing healthy self-soothing techniques, you will want to ensure that oral stimulation doesn’t become an oral fixation.
Prolonged thumb-sucking can lead to the formation of dental malocclusions such as overbites and underbites and can have adverse effects on your child’s speech development. Prolonged use of pacifiers can, as well, stunt or otherwise hinder your child’s development and affect their facial structure. If you’re having difficulty weaning your baby off of thumb-sucking or the pacifier, talk to your pediatric dentist.
Your Baby is Hungry. Always.
Sometimes, things are exactly what they seem to be. If it looks like your baby is trying to eat your TV’s remote control, it could very well be the case that they are.
Babies are growing and developing at a rapid rate. It almost seems like they grow an inch every time you blink—better glue your eyes open if you want them to stay young forever. It’s no surprise then that your baby needs fuel—and lots of it—to develop and grow healthily.
Even though it looks like your baby is trying to eat everything in sight, they’re mostly out for sweet-tasting snacks as those send the signal to your child’s brain that that food item is full of sugar. And sugar means energy. It also means cavities and gum disease.
If your baby is craving a high-sugar snack or meal, you shouldn’t deprive them of the calories they’re after—but you also need to consider the health of their gums and burgeoning teeth. Steer clear of processed sugars and offer your baby foods that are high in natural sugar such as fruit, milk, organic yogurt, carrots, and beets (blended of course). And develop a regular schedule for cleaning your baby’s gums so that sugary food debris won’t lead to plaque buildup, infection, and gum disease.
Your Baby Needs a Pediatric Dentist
As your baby explores, teethes forages for snacks, and learns how to self-soothe, it’s important to ensure that they do so safely. Some of the objects that your baby might encounter can damage their growing teeth, impact their facial structure or lead to infection. Furthermore, oral stimulation can lead to unhealthy oral fixations.
For more information on how to protect your baby’s smile as they develop, contact Treehouse Dental Care today.