Having your child grow up with beautiful teeth is a shared goal between our practice and the parents who bring their children to our office. It is important to start dental care early to ensure your child has the best possible treatment for their emerging and growing primary teeth. Preventive care assures your child's current dental health, and prepares him or her for a healthy future.
Normally, the first tooth erupts between ages 6 to 12 months. Gums are sore and tender as each tooth erupts, usually until the age of 3. Rubbing sore gums gently with a clean finger, 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.
While your baby is teething, it is important to monitor the teeth for signs of baby bottle decay. 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 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.
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 be mentioned to your family dentist. The way your child cares for their primary teeth plays a critical role in how they treat the permanent teeth. Children and adults are equally susceptible to plaque and gum problems—hence, the need for regular care and dental check-ups.
A child’s first dental visit should be scheduled around his or her first 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.
Primary teeth are important for several reasons. Foremost, healthy teeth allow a child to eat and maintain good nutrition. Healthy teeth also 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.
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. Let us know if you notice any signs of decay or anything unusual in your child’s mouth.
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 children eat can cause cavities, so they should be limited to occasional treats. Children should regularly consume healthy foods like vegetables, low-fat yogurt and cheeses, which promote strong teeth.
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 usually first, followed by 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 32 permanent teeth, including the third molars (wisdom teeth).