Congratulations! You are the proud parent of a new baby boy or girl. It is never too soon to begin thinking about how to protect your child’s teeth and steps to take to keep your baby’s teeth healthy and strong.
Many parents believe that because they are called ‘baby’ teeth, and that they fall out, dental care is really not necessary until permanent (adult) teeth begin to come in. This is not true. In fact, baby teeth are just as important as permanent teeth and are susceptible to cavities, decay and loss. Children need these baby teeth to help to learn to talk and speak, and to eat food and chew. The other important part of baby teeth is that if the first teeth are healthy and come in correctly, adult teeth will almost always do the same thing.
Many infants end up with tooth decay in the front of the mouth (the front teeth), and this is sometimes called baby bottle tooth decay. To help prevent tooth decay in your baby, there are several things that parents should do.
Try to limit or eliminate drinks that contain sugar. Most tooth decay is caused from frequent and long exposure to sugary drinks. Sugars are found in juices, so limit the amount of juice your child has. Never send baby to bed with her bottle, even if the bottle just has milk. Milks and formulas also have sugars in them, and the constant and prolonged exposure to the bottle and liquid can cause cavities.
Never eat after your baby and then use that spoon for baby again. Adults have larger amounts of bacteria in their mouths, and this bacteria can cause frequent and numerous cavities in babies.
If baby uses a pacifier, do not dip the pacifier in syrup or other sugars to help quiet a ‘fussy’ baby. While this may work for a bit, it leads to cavities and tooth and gum disease in the infant.
The good news is that tooth decay in babies is completely preventable. Schedule your infant’s first visit with a pediatric dentist when their first teeth begin to appear. In this way baby becomes used to seeing the dentist and it is just a routine visit.
Early children’s dental care is an important part of establishing a lifelong healthy smile. Tooth development begins during pregnancy and continues into a person’s late 20s, so early preventive care is essential.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends parents take their child to the dentist at the time their first tooth erupts or before they turn one year of age. The primary focus of these appointments is to reduce a child’s anxiety when it comes to visiting the dental office.
It’s a common belief that tooth decay in a baby tooth does not need to be treated because the tooth will simply fall out. This may be true if the tooth is already near the age of exfoliation. However, baby teeth act as placeholders, which guide the development and eruption of the permanent tooth underneath. Premature loss of a baby tooth can cause collapse of the adjacent teeth, resulting in crowding or the inability of the permanent tooth to erupt. Untreated tooth decay can also spread through the baby tooth and reach the developing permanent tooth. Baby teeth decay at a much quicker rate than permanent teeth, so early intervention to dental disease is extremely important.
One method to help reduce the risk of tooth decay in permanent molars is to place a preventive sealant on the chewing surface of the teeth. This coating makes the grooves and pits of the teeth more shallow and easier to clean through simple toothbrushing.
Your child’s first visit will usually consist of just an exam and consultation. If your child is comfortable they may also enjoy having their pictures taken as well as their teeth cleaned.
At what age should you take your child to the dentist for the first time?
According to a recent survey by the American Dental Association, three out of four people who were asked this question had no idea. It would also stand to reason that very few people also would not know what kind of dental care regimen a baby should have.
For infants and toddlers, the ADA recommends the following dental care program:
A child’s first visit to the dentist should occur within six months after the first tooth appears or before the child’s first birthday, whichever is sooner. A pediatric dentist is the best choice for young children’s dental care.
Dental hygiene should begin as soon as just a few days after birth. After your infant eats, take a clean, moist cloth and wipe the gums.
As soon as the first tooth breaks through the gums – usually around six months – brush with a small toothbrush and water.
When the child turns two, you can start to use a small pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste. Teach them to spit out the toothpaste and not swallow it. Continue to brush the child’s teeth for them until you feel they can do it on their own.
When the child has two teeth that touch together, you can begin flossing.
Pacifiers should never be dipped in sugar or sugary juices, as they can cause tooth decay. It is also not a good idea for an adult to lick a pacifier and put it in the baby’s mouth, as decay-causing bacteria from the adult’s mouth can be transferred to the baby.
The ADA has a great website called Mouth Healthy, which outlines recommended dental care for all ages, from infants to the elderly. It is always important to remember, however, that if you or your child is experiencing any pain or discomfort with your teeth, you should seek out the services of a reputable dentist right away.
Taking children to the dentist can be tricky, and this is especially true for a child’s first dental visit. Some children find it hard to sit still at the dentist and may behave disruptively, running around or touching things in the dentist’s office. Alternatively, some children can feel anxious or intimidated in new situations or interacting with strangers and will not immediately warm up to the person in the white coat. Furthermore, sharp-looking, noisy dental instruments can be frightening to children who have been known to throw tantrums or have meltdowns once seated in the dental chair.
If you are a caregiver who is planning to take a youngster to the dentist for the first time, here are some things you can do to ensure that your child gets the best out of his or her treatment and the visit goes as smoothly as possible.
1) Choose a kid-friendly dentist
Some dental practices are more kid-friendly than others. You can call beforehand to find out what amenities the dental practice offers for kids, e.g. kids waiting room/play area, stickers, child-sized dental chairs etc. Taking your child to a pediatric dentist rather than to a general dentist is recommended since pediatric dental facilities provide child-friendly environments, and the dental staff is trained to work with children.
2) Orient the child beforehand
Calmly discuss the upcoming visit with your child. This will satisfy your child’s curiosity and also help them to feel prepared. During a first visit, the dentist will usually do a physical examination, take x-rays, and perhaps do a dental cleaning. Let your child know what will be expected of them. Also, prepare your child to like the dental practitioner by painting the dentist as a nice person who likes children. Build up positive associations in your child’s mind so that dental visits don’t seem scary or even that big of a deal. Some dental practices offer office tours and taking the child on one beforehand is a good way to orient them to the new environment.
3) Communicate with the dentist
Let the dental staff know up front of any allergies your child has, as well as any habits that might affect their oral health e.g. thumb sucking. You should let the dentist know of any concerns you have regarding your child’s ability to receive dental care.
4) Stay with your child
It’s important for parents to stay in the examining room with younger children. This allows you to offer moral support and be a comforting presence for your child. By staying in the examining room, you’re also able to observe the dental staff in action and make sure you are comfortable with the way care is being delivered.
If you’ve ever had a child with a cavity that needed to be filled, you’re probably asked “Why? Isn’t that tooth going to fall out anyway?” This is a wonderful question that most parents have asked to their child’s dentist. While baby teeth are made to eventually fall out, they also play an important role in the development of the permanent tooth forming underneath.
Baby teeth act as a placeholder for the tooth underneath. When a tooth is lost prematurely, the adjacent teeth can shift into the space, making it too small for the underlying tooth to erupt into. This causes crowding or impacted teeth requiring orthodontic intervention to correct. In some cases where the tooth is decayed too badly and must be extracted, a temporary space maintainer should be put in place.
Because baby teeth are less dense than permanent teeth, they decay at a much faster pace. Even a small cavity that is not addressed early on can quickly become an abscessed tooth requiring treatment involving the nerve and the placement of a temporary crown in order to retain the tooth. Early intervention allows treatment to be smaller and less expensive.
When decay is left untreated, it can cause the dental infection to spread into the area of the permanent tooth as well as other areas of the body. In rare cases, dental abscesses that are not treated can contribute to other conditions such as pneumonia, endocarditis and abscesses of the brain.
The best way to prevent severe dental problems in your children’s teeth is to have them checked early on and regularly to address any needs. Young children should be seen by a pediatric dentist. The AAPD recommends a dental screening for your child by age 1 or when the first tooth erupts.
Tooth decay is almost entirely preventable, yet the incidence of tooth decay in young children has begun to increase. This trend is a serious concern because it reflects the first such increase in years. For decades, the incidence of tooth decay has been declining across the board, but this new trend indicates that we may have become complacent or drifted away from good oral health care.
The lifetime benefits of good oral health and dental care are well known. Tooth decay and cavities are known to cause a reduced quality of life due to the associated discomfort and poor aesthetics. Children with poor dental health do not do as well in school and often have a lower level of self-esteem, both of which lead to lower levels of success. Tooth decay and gum disease have been linked to cardiovascular disease and other health concerns.
You can give your child a head start by taking steps to prevent tooth decay. Preventing tooth decay starts early. Experts point to several causes of tooth decay in young children. According to the American Dental Association, you should avoid giving bottles at bedtime or nap time, especially those containing sugary drinks. The sugar and bacteria will sit on the child’s teeth while he or she is sleeping. Also, cleaning a child’s pacifier or spoon with your mouth can transfer bacteria from you to your child.
Wipe an infant’s gums with a soft cloth or brush very lightly with a soft child’s tooth brush to help remove food particles and to help the child become accustomed to regular brushing. Once the child’s teeth begin to come in, brush after meals with a soft toothbrush. Start your child on regular dental visits by age one and follow your dentist’s recommendations for good dental health. Experts recommend taking your child to a pediatric dentist instead of your regular dentist. Pediatric dentists have the skills and experience to address the dental needs of children.
After decades of declining rates of tooth decay, recent reports of an increase in the number of cavities reported in baby teeth in children between the ages of 2 and 5 are a troubling indication of a potential reversal of decades of improved oral health in American. There are similar reports of increased tooth decay in Canadian children.
The studies did not focus on the reason for the increased rate of tooth decay in this age group, but speculation focuses on increased intake of sugary drinks and foods, drinking bottled water instead of fluorinated tap water, and parents concerned about upsetting their children who resist teeth brushing.
Experts suggest starting an oral health regimen with children early, even before teeth appear. Wiping your child’s gums or brushing gently with a soft, small brush can get them used to the routine. This way, they will understand that it is a normal part of everyday hygiene. Once the child’s teeth appear, brush twice a day, floss daily, and make the brushing and flossing routine mandatory.
In addition, dentists recommend not putting your baby to bed with a bottle of milk or juice. The sugars in these drinks will coat the child’s teeth the entire time they are asleep and can accelerate tooth decay. A bottle of water would be a better solution.
When it comes to snacks, steer clear of sugary snacks and drinks. Instead, try crunchy healthy foods like apples and carrots. These foods can actually help scrape off some of the plaque and are good for your child’s teeth.
Finally, start your child’s dental health off right by beginning regular dental cleanings and checkups at an early age. Most dentists recommend that children visit a pediatric dentist for the first time when they are one year old. If you start early, your child may get used to the dentist and avoid dental anxiety later in life.
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