Early Dental Care: Why It’s Important
Normally the first tooth erupts between ages 6 to 12 months. Gums are sore, tender and sometimes irritable until the age of 3. Rubbing sore gums gently with a clean finger, the back of a cold spoon or a cold, wet cloth helps soothe the gums. Teething rings work well, but avoid teething biscuits – they contain sugar that is not good for baby teeth.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
While your baby is teething, it is important to monitor the teeth for signs of baby bottle decay (also called early childhood caries, nursing caries and nursing bottle syndrome). Examine the teeth, especially on the inside or the tongue side, every two weeks for dull spots (whiter than the tooth surface) or lines.
A bottle containing anything other than water – such as fruit juices, milk, formula, fruit juice diluted with water, sugar water or any other sweet drink – and left in an infant’s mouth while sleeping can cause decay. This happens because sugar in the liquid mixes with bacteria in dental plaque, forming acids that attack the tooth enamel. Each time a child drinks liquids containing sugar, acids attack the teeth for about 20 minutes.
When awake, saliva carries away the liquid. During sleep, the saliva flow significantly decreases and liquids pool around the child’s teeth for long periods, covering the teeth in acids.
Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Tooth decay in infants can be minimized or totally prevented by not allowing sleeping infants to breast or bottle-feed. Infants that need a bottle to comfortably fall asleep should be given a water-filled bottle or a pacifier. Our office is dedicated to fighting baby bottle tooth decay. Let us know if you notice any signs of decay or anything unusual in your child’s mouth.
Tips to Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
- During the day, to calm or comfort your baby, don’t give a bottle filled with sugary liquids or milk. Instead, give plain water or substitute a pacifier.
- Never dip your baby’s pacifier in sugar, honey or any sugary liquid.
- At bedtime, do not put your baby to bed with a bottle filled with sugary liquids (watered down fruit juice or milk still increases the risk of decay). Give plain water.
- Do not allow your baby to nurse continuously throughout the night while sleeping, since human breast milk can cause decay. Use a pacifier or give a bottle filled with plain water instead.
- Don’t add sugar to your child’s food.
- Use a wet cloth or gauze to wipe your child’s teeth and gums after each feeding. This helps remove any bacteria-forming plaque and excess sugar that have built up on the teeth and gums.
- Ask your dentist about your baby’s fluoride needs. If your drinking water is not fluoridated, fluoride supplements or fluoride treatments may be needed.
- Teach your baby to drink from a cup by his or her 1st birthday. Moving to a “sippy cup” reduces the teeth’s exposure to sugars; however, constant sipping from the cup can still result in decay unless it is filled with water.
Infant’s New Teeth
The primary, or “baby,” teeth play a crucial role in dental development. Without them, a child cannot chew food properly and has difficulty speaking clearly. Primary teeth are vital to development of the jaws and for guiding the permanent (secondary) teeth into place when they replace the primary teeth around age 6.
Since primary teeth guide the permanent teeth into place, infants with missing primary teeth or infants who prematurely lose primary teeth may require a space maintainer, a device used to hold the natural space open. Without a maintainer, the teeth can tilt toward the empty space and cause permanent teeth to come in crooked.
Missing teeth should always be mentioned to your family dentist. The way your child cares for his/her primary teeth plays a critical role in how he/she treats the permanent teeth. Children and adults are equally susceptible to plaque and gum problems – hence, the need for regular care and dental check-ups.
Your Child’s First Dental Visit
A child’s first dental visit should be scheduled around his/her 1st birthday. The most important part of the visit is getting to know and becoming comfortable with a doctor and his staff. A pleasant, comfortable first visit builds trust and helps put the child at ease during future dental visits. If possible, allow the child to sit in a parent’s lap in the exam room. Children should be encouraged to discuss any fears or anxiety they feel.
Why Primary Teeth Are Important
Primary teeth are important for several reasons. Foremost, good teeth allow a child to eat and maintain good nutrition. Healthy teeth allow for clear pronunciation and speech habits. The self-image that healthy teeth give a child is immeasurable. Primary teeth also guide eruption of the permanent teeth.
Good Diet and Healthy Teeth
The teeth, bones and soft tissue of the mouth require a healthy, well-balanced diet. A variety of foods from the five food groups helps minimize (and avoid) cavities and other dental problems. Most snacks that children eat cause cavities, so children should only receive healthy foods like vegetables, low-fat yogurt and cheeses, which promote strong teeth.
Infant Tooth Eruption
A child’s teeth actually start forming before birth. As early as 4 months of age, the primary or “baby” teeth push through the gums – the lower central incisors are first, then the upper central incisors. The remainder of the 20 primary teeth typically erupt by age 3, but the place and order varies.
Permanent teeth begin eruption around age 6, starting with the first molars and lower central incisors. This process continues until around age 21. Adults have 28 secondary (permanent) teeth – 32 including the third molars (wisdom teeth).
Generally, it’s normal and healthy for infants to suck their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or toys. Object sucking gives children a sense of emotional security and comfort. However, if thumb sucking continues beyond the age of 5 – when the permanent teeth begin to come in – dental problems may occur. Depending on the frequency, intensity and duration of the sucking, the teeth can be pushed out of alignment, causing them to protrude and create an overbite. The child may also have difficulty with the correct pronunciation of words. In addition, the upper and lower jaws can become misaligned, and the roof of the mouth might become malformed.
Tips to Help Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking
First, remember that thumb sucking is normal and should not be a concern of parents unless the habit continues as the permanent teeth begin to emerge.
The child must make the decision on their own to stop sucking their thumb or fingers before the habit will cease. To help toward this goal, parents and family members can offer encouragement and positive reinforcement. Because thumb sucking is a security mechanism, negative reinforcement (such as scolding, nagging or punishments) are generally ineffective, making children defensive and driving them back to the habit. Instead, give praise or rewards for time successfully avoiding the habit. Gradually increase the time needed without sucking to achieve the reward. The younger the child, the more frequent the rewards will need to be given. For children who want to stop, cover the finger or thumb with a Band-Aid as a reminder. Take the thumb or finger out of the mouth after the child falls asleep.
To help older children break the habit, parents should try to determine why their child is doing it – find out what stresses your child faces and try to correct the situation. Once the problem is gone, the child often finds it is easier to give up sucking.
If this doesn’t work, there are dental appliances a child can wear in the mouth to prevent sucking. These appliances are cemented to the upper teeth, sit on the roof of the mouth and make thumb sucking harder and therefore less pleasurable.
Brushing and Flossing for Little Mouths
When it comes to brushing and flossing for kids, both tasks require good manual dexterity, or in other words, good control of the tooth brush and floss; something most kids do not develop until around age 6. It is important for an adult to brush a child’s teeth twice a day to ensure the removal of plaque to prevent tooth decay. Until the age of 6, children should be supervised while brushing. Brushing should last for at least 2 minutes. But in the case of children, it will generally require a bit more time and patience for the person helping the child.
- Start by using a soft-bristled toothbrush with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Choose a toothpaste that is appropriate for the age of the child. Avoid using toothpaste that contains fluoride until the child is able to consciously avoid swallowing it to prevent fluorosis.
- Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle with the bristles pointed in the direction of the gumline.
- Gently brush the teeth with a circular motion. Brush the outside surface, inside surface and biting surface of the teeth.
Flossing a child’s teeth is often easy because they have fairly large spaces between them. Some children, however, do have tight spaces, and require daily flossing to prevent tooth decay between the teeth. Consider using a flossing aide. They are easily used between the teeth, cleaning gently and effectively, and they allow the child to attempt to floss on their own.
Quick Tips That Help Make Brushing and Flossing Fun and Easy
- Brush your teeth together, taking turns brushing each other’s teeth.
- Use one of the familiar cartoon character toothbrushes.
- Sing the theme song from your child’s favorite cartoon or a nursery rhyme while you brush their teeth.
- Use toothpaste and mouth rinse that have pleasant flavors for sensitive taste buds.
- Use syllables like “ahhhh” or “eeee” to help your child open their mouth or move their lips away from their teeth while brushing.
Oral Health – A Life-Long Commitment
When you teach a child something new at a young age, he will learn the task and continue it well into adulthood. Brushing and flossing have never been more important. Bring your child in to see their dentist as early as the first signs of teeth. Children, depending on their oral hygiene, may have dental appointments once every six months to one year.