All You Need to Know About Preemies and Teeth

boy-1424452_1280When your baby is born premature, you will likely have all sorts of questions regarding her care. Premature babies are given special consideration in many cases, and one of these include your preemie baby’s teeth. Of course, the extent of dental problems your little preemie is likely to have all depends on how early she was born and her overall nutrition. Being aware of the dental problems unique to preemies and how to minimize tooth decay go a long way in avoiding the discomfort of cavities and gum disease.

Delayed tooth eruption

Baby teeth commonly come through between 6-12 months of age (for preemies, this would be the adjusted age). Teeth and bones require calcium to form and strengthen, and babies acquire 2/3 of the calcium needed during the last trimester of pregnancy. Therefore, premature birth could be a reason why the eruption of primary teeth is delayed for preemie babies, and most especially for those who were born with very low birth weight and/or very sick. In a study conducted to reveal the contributing factors of delayed tooth eruption in preemies, the two most influential were extended intubation for illness and inadequate early nutrition. As far as permanent teeth are concerned, there was no notable difference in eruption for children born premature vs full-term.

Dental problems related to the NICU

There are a handful of dental problems preemies face which are due in particular to the treatment received in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The gestational age and birthweight has a lot to do with the likelihood your preemie will experience these unique problems.

  • Palatal groove – When preemies spend an extended length of time on intubation in the NICU, it can create a narrow groove in the hard palate (roof of the mouth). This is called a palatal groove.
  • Enamel hypoplasia – The hard, white coating surrounding the teeth is called enamel; a lack of this protective layer is hypoplasia. This condition is sometimes called “preemie teeth.” Preemies are four times more likely than other children to have enamel hypoplasia, and it can affect permanent teeth though it’s usually less severe. These teeth are ultra-sensitive to cavities, so it’s important to monitor closely with trips to the dentist.
  • Tooth discoloration – In preemie babies who had very high bilirubin levels (jaundice) in the NICU, a preemie baby’s teeth can grow in with yellow or brown discoloration which cannot be brushed clean, even by the dentist. Fortunately, only the primary (baby) teeth are affected, so once the permanent teeth grow in the discoloration won’t be an issue.

Taking care of your preemie baby’s teeth

It’s important to understand that as soon as your preemie baby’s teeth grow in, she can begin to develop tooth decay and/or cavities. Here are some oral hygiene tips to help keep your baby’s mouth healthy:

  1. For baby’s very first dental care, clean her gums and little emerging teeth by rubbing gently with a clean, damp washcloth.
  2. Don’t allow your baby to sleep with a bottle. The prolonged exposure to the sugar in milk or juice causes baby bottle tooth decay.
  3. Use the proper toothpaste. Babies don’t need to use toothpaste until 2 years of age. Introduce a fluoride toothpaste as soon as your toddler understands that it cannot be swallowed.
  4. Using a soft-bristled toothbrush, brush twice a day for two minutes and floss at least once daily.
  5. Take your child to the dentist as soon as she turns one year old and continue to have regular check-ups.

Some dental problems may be related to the fact that your baby was born premature, but there are also plenty of preemie babies who experience no dental problems at all. Being born premature doesn’t guarantee dental problems, only increases the likelihood they will occur. As a parent, just be aware that your preemie baby’s teeth require consistent attention and care.

Has your baby had dental problems related to premature birth? Share in the comments below!


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