Ask Gastromommy: Teeth

A common question about BLW is, “How can my baby eat solids without teeth?” This is an entirely logical question. As an adult, it’s hard to imagine chewing and eating food without teeth. Nonetheless, babies do not need teeth to eat solids. They have very hard gums, which they can use to mash food down. If you put your finger in your baby’s mouth and he bites on it between his gums, you will be amazed and shocked to see how hard and strong they are!

Teeth or no teeth, babies can eat everything because they are capable little people. :) Well, they can eat everything except honey (before the age of one), whole nuts and added salt and sugar. Certain foods like grapes and cherry tomatoes should be cut in half. A more extensive list of choking hazards and foods to avoid can be found in All About BLW, Part 6

Your baby is blissfully unaware that he doesn’t have teeth (and that most everyone else doesn't eat without them). He is simply interested in exploring food, which is new, fun, interesting and yummy! We, the adults, are the ones who are worried and concerned. For us, it’s ultimately about trusting that a baby is capable of managing and eating food on his own and about getting comfortable with letting him explore. An adult should always be present while a baby eats, in the rare instance that he might choke and need assistance.

Teeth or no teeth, it’s common for a BLW beginner to bite off more than he can chew. If necessary, he will gag some or all of the food out. A baby’s gag reflex is significantly farther forward in their mouth, very close to the front, which helps protect him from choking! You can read more detailed information about choking and gagging in All About BLW, Part 3.

Some babies – with or without teeth – may get frustrated early on in BLW if they are unable to grab onto or chew certain foods. If that happens, you can try breaking the food into a different shape or mashing it a little, but do not put food into your baby’s mouth! This could actually increase his chances of gagging and choking, as he is not in control of the eating process; the food may be pushed much farther back, past his gag reflex, than it would be if he feeds himself. Personally, I am of the mindset to let him figure out, rather than mashing food or breaking it into a different shape. He will figure it out, and a lot more quickly than you could possibly imagine! Allowing him to explore and problem-solve on his own will encourage independence and self-confidence. It will also help improve his dexterity with his hands as well as his eating abilities, including skills like moving food around in his mouth, using his tongue, chewing and swallowing.

Theo didn’t have any teeth until he was seven months old. Even once they broke through, it took a while for them to fully come in. He got his two lower central incisors first (as pictured in the image above). Nonetheless, we started BLW right around six months and after only a few weeks, he was on his way to becoming a highly capable eater without any teeth! His skills improved with every meal and his lack of teeth had no impact on his abilities. If there was something he couldn’t handle, he simply gagged, spit it out and carried on eating happily. He got more teeth around eight months, ten months and so on. Now, at 12 months and 3 weeks, he has eight teeth – four on the top and four on the bottom. While his teeth have certainly helped him further improve his eating skills, they were not necessary before. (This is especially true if BLW is done properly.) My friend’s son, for example, didn’t get his first few teeth until he was around one year old. He also started BLW at six months and has had great success with eating since the beginning.

Check out my All About BLW series for more detailed information about doing BLW properly, with or without teeth. ;) Part 1 covers the basics; Part 2 discusses advantages and disadvantages; Part 3 delves into gagging and choking; Part 4 focuses on starting BLW: when and what; Part 5 describes starting BLW: where and how; and Part 6 offers a detailed list of first foods and foods to avoid. 

Share your stories with us. What has your experience been with your baby with BLW, with or without teeth?