Our smile conveys a lot about us. Not only a reflection of our mood, teeth are vital to nutrition, speech and self-esteem. It often comes as a great surprise to me the number of parents who overlook dental care when it comes to routine health practices.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends scheduling a visit to the dentist within six months of the eruption of the first tooth, and no later than the child’s first birthday. Unfortunately, many parents are under the mistaken idea that no dental care is needed until after the eruption of permanent teeth.
Early dental care is important for several reasons. First, the parents will learn how to care for the child’s new teeth. Cleaning even the tiniest new tooth is essential. The dentist can also assess any potential problems perhaps relating to nursing, bottle-feeding, thumb-sucking, etc. The dentist will also assess your child’s need for fluoride. You should check your water supply for fluoride, if your water is not fluorinated, a vitamin supplement may be necessary. And possibly the most important reason for early dental visits is to ensure your child’s comfort at a dentist’s office.
I made a point of finding a local dentist that specialized in pediatric dentistry. The dentist and staff are very compassionate. They are specially trained to deal with the pediatric patient and their special needs. They are also expert at being silly and reassuring at the same time and guaranteeing your child’s comfort. As a matter of fact, my dentist office is so fun that my kids whine to me, “Mom, PLEEEEAASE! Can we go to the dentist?” His office has an arcade room, video games, toys, etc. We actually go early to insure the kids get enough time to play. I will admit; this extra fun comes with a price. This dentist is more expensive than a family dentist, but no more expensive than a day at an amusement park. That is the way I look at it. I am happy to pay the extra money. My kids are happy and have a great time. And when there have been problems, my children are comfortable with the dentist. My daughter didn’t even flinch when she had to have a cavity filled in a “baby” tooth.
The First Visit
You can help reduce anxiety by telling the child what to expect before the first visit. Naturally with very young children this may take some creativity. Role-playing is often very effective. Reading books specifically written for children on the subject might also help minimize fears. On the initial visit you might expect an exam, X-rays, cleaning and perhaps a fluoride treatment depending on your child’s age.
Beyond regular every-six-months visits to the dentist, daily sound oral hygiene should be encouraged at home. Believe it or not, this should begin before your baby even has teeth. According to ADA “Wiping baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad after feeding will remove the plaque and bacteria that can harm erupting teeth.” A particular concern at this stage is protecting newly erupting baby teeth from decay due to continued exposure to sugary liquids (i.e., milk, juice, etc.). Never put your child to sleep with a bottle! Before sleep, wipe your child’s new teeth or gums with a damp piece of gauze.
By the age of two you can begin to introduce toothpaste. Initially, parents should see to the brushing to be certain the teeth are adequately clean. Use no more than a pea sized amount of toothpaste and teach your child not to swallow the toothpaste. The ADA warns of the risk mild fluorosis, “which is a cosmetic defect noticeable as very light spots on permanent teeth and develops only while the teeth are still forming. Fluorosis only occurs when more than the optimal daily amount of fluoride is ingested.” Parents are urged to continue regular supervision and educate their child on proper technique until about the age of six or seven. Be sure to include instruction on flossing as well. Children should be flossing and brushing daily.
According to the ADA, the following should be considered when choosing toothbrushes and floss:
“The most important thing to look for when choosing a toothbrush is the ADA’s Seal of Acceptance. The Seal is the symbol that the product meets ADA standards for safety and effectiveness. The ADA recommends consumers change their toothbrushes at least every three months or sooner if the bristles become frayed. Children’s brushes may need to be replaced more often because they can wear them out sooner.
Powered toothbrushes are another excellent idea. Powered toothbrushes may be easier to use for people with dexterity problems or a physical disability. Children may also be more inclined to brush regularly because of the novelty of using a powered toothbrush.
Floss or other inter-dental cleaners don’t come in such fancy packages, but are equally important for oral health-care and should be used by everyone once a day. Again, look for the products with the ADA Seal.”
Early oral hygiene, practiced daily, will instill good habits to last a lifetime.
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About the time your child turns five, he will start the process of losing his baby teeth, and permanent teeth will emerge. The timing for this varies for each child. Generally, if your child had teeth early as a baby, you can look for the permanent teeth to appear early as well. A common situation I have seen with kids this age is when permanent teeth erupt prior to the loss of the baby teeth. If this is the situation with the bottom teeth, encourage your child to wiggle and loosen the baby teeth on his own. If this occurs with the upper teeth, you should consult your dentist, as the placement of the permanent tooth could be affected.
Once all the permanent teeth are in place, you should speak to your dentist about having a dental sealant applied. This has been shown to be effective in protecting the permanent teeth from decay.
As with most things in life — prevention is always the goal. Encourage your children to use mouth protection if your child is involved in sports. You can talk to your dentist about the proper appliance for your child. However, accidents still will happen.
- If your child breaks a tooth or loses a tooth; contact your dentist immediately. Keep the mouth clean. Apply ice if there are signs of swelling.
- Should your child complain of a toothache, have your child rinse with warm water. Try flossing in the event the pain is caused by something lodged between the teeth. If the pain persists, call your dentist.
- If your child cuts his tongue, gums, lips, etc … understand it usually appears worse than it is. The mouth is a wet environment; it may appear to be bleeding profusely. Rinse the mouth with water. Apply ice (ice pops work great with little ones), if the bleeding does not slow down, call your dentist or go to the emergency room.
The ADA states: “It is recommended that every child receive an orthodontic evaluation by age seven” to identify any orthodontic problems. The ADA defines orthodontic problems as malocclusion. “Some examples or causes of malocclusion are crowded teeth, extra teeth, missing teeth or jaws that are out of alignment. Most malocclusions are inherited, although some can be acquired. Acquired malocclusions can be caused by accidents, early or late loss of baby teeth, or sucking of the thumb or fingers for a prolonged period of time.” Today there are many options available in terms of types of orthodontics or braces. Generally, the duration of treatments is about 24 months — but this varies depending on extent of correction needed and compliance of patient.
An excellent source of information is the American Dental Association. If you need help locating a dentist in your area or would like additional information on this topic, you can visit their web site.
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