Taking Care of Your Child’s Teeth
This cute little smile cost us several thousand dollars later to straighten it out….but worth it!
There is nothing cuter than a toothless grin of a baby. Next the cute little pearly whites that erupt create a darling smile, then there is a toothless grin again as the tooth fairy starts to make visits to your home, and then soon your child will have two big front teeth that look way too big for their mouth. As your child grows, their dental needs change too. Why is dental health so important for children? Dental decay is the most common chronic childhood illness. There are at least 4 million preschoolers that have had at least one cavity. Forty to fifty percent of children will have cavities before the age of five. 51 million school hours are lost each year due to dental health problems. The American diet is high in sugar, and we are using more and more non-fluoridated bottled water for drinking. This all adds up to an increase in dental cavities, and a decrease in dental health of our children. Children with cavities in their primary or “baby” teeth have more problems with poor weight gain, iron deficiency, speech problems and poor dental health as adults. Taking care of our children’s teeth is part of good health care!
I. When do baby teeth form and erupt?
- The primary teeth or baby teeth begin to form before your baby is born at about the 14th 19th week of pregnancy. The crown, or the white part of the tooth that is seen, continues to develop until several weeks to several months after your child is born.
- Total of 20 baby teeth, 10 on top and 10 on the bottom by about age 3.
- The first tooth to appear usually is the lower central incisors (the bottom two teeth) around 6 months of age. Don’t panic if your baby’s first tooth isn’t the lower two teeth…some babies teeth to the beat of their own drummer!
- Teething can be painful for infants. Babies explore their world with their mouths, and during teething this can be uncomfortable. There can be redness, swelling in the gums, drooling, increase in finger sucking, and the need to bite and chew on any object. Some babies will pull at ears or rub their jaw line, teething pain is often referred to the ear area.
- Sometimes parents will see a “blister” where the tooth is about to erupt, this is normal.
- Many babies like a clean teething ring, frozen wash cloth, frozen fruit in a mesh feeder, frozen bagel or mom’s fingers to rub the gums.
- You can give acetaminophen, or ibuprofen (after 6 months of age) to help with the pain. Ibuprofen is a bit more effective for inflammation of the gums, but wait until your baby is at least 6 months to use this!
- Do NOT place oral numbing ointments on your baby’s gums. This can cause a decrease in the gag reflex and could be dangerous.
- Teething pain usually occurs for 3 to 4 days prior to the tooth breaking through the gum. Pain should decrease once the tooth breaks through the gum line. There may still be some discomfort for a few days after. It is not a month-long process unless your baby is cutting multiple teeth one after the other.
- Teething does NOT cause a fever, vomiting, diarrhea or cold symptoms. If your baby has any of these symptoms with teething, he or she is probably ill too.
- Teething can cause an increase in drooling which can lead to a rash or irritation around the mouth and on a baby’s chest. Keep the area dry by changing shirts frequently, using absorbent bibs, and “water proofing” the skin with ointments.
II. When is the first dental visit?
- The first dental visit should be at about age one or 6 months after the first tooth. It is important to have your child’s first teeth examined. Dental problems can begin early. Children with healthy teeth can eat better, develop better speech, and dental cavities can cause a permanent state of infection in your child.
- Usually the first visit is just a visual exam—usually on mom of dad’s lap. Going to the dentist is just like a well child exam at your child’s doctor. We want to be sure we support healthy teeth, not just see the dentist when there is a problem!
III. How do you care for the first teeth?
- Wipe your baby’s first teeth using a wash cloth or gauze or a soft bristled baby toothbrush. Ideally, your baby’s teeth should be wiped or brushed twice a day. Once in the morning and once before bed. The earlier your child becomes accustomed to wiping or brushing their teeth, the easier it will be.
- You can use a small smear (about the size of a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste on your child’s tooth or teeth until age 3 and then a pea size amount after age 3. Fluoride is important! It helps strengthen your child’s teeth and prevent decay.
- You should help your child brush teeth until at least age 6. Children are not coordinated enough to brush teeth well before that. Sometimes this will be a battle, but it is worth the battle. We want to form good dental hygiene habits early! Do what you have to do to get teeth brushed.
- Have your child sit on your lap facing out, or you sit on the floor and lean your child back into your lap to brush.
- Let your child brush after you brush. Use circular motions on the teeth and brush along the gum line.
- Use stickers, games, songs, whatever it takes to get the tooth brushing done. If your child cries, brush quickly…but at least the mouth will be open!
- Never put your baby to bed with a bottle of formula or breast milk. This will result in decay in your baby’s first teeth!
- Never put juice or any other sugared drink in a bottle.
- Do not allow your child to walk around with a sippy cup of juice or milk all day long. This will leave a continual coating of sugars on your child’s teeth.
- You can begin to floss your child’s teeth when they start to touch. Again, this is a good habit to start young!
- As your child begins to eat table food, try to avoid high sugar snacks. Sticky snacks are the worst. Fruit snacks, dried fruit like raisins and any other sticky food must be brushed out of your child’s teeth.
IV. When do I worry about thumb sucking, finger sucking and pacifiers?
- It is perfectly normal for infants and young children to need to suck. Sucking decreases stress in young children and makes for a happier child!
- It should be discouraged starting at about age 18 months. Parents should limit pacifier use to bedtime and nap time.
- All thumb sucking and pacifier use should be discouraged after age 3.
- Most children stop on their own, but some need help. Most will then quit with encouragement from the dentist and parents. Do not use negative reinforcement like hot sauce on a thumb, taping fingers, or putting mittens on your child.
- Prolonged sucking can create crowded, crooked teeth or bite problem. The fingers, thumb and pacifier all affect the teeth the same way.
VI. My child grinds his teeth, is this bad?
- Teeth grinding happens in many toddlers. The toddler’s molars are very smooth, and children will often grind.
- Most children outgrow the habit by about age 6.
- If teeth grinding continues after permanent teeth arrive, then speak with your child’s dentist.
VII. What should I do if my child injures his mouth and teeth?
- Be sure and ask your dentist when he or she would like to be contacted for a tooth injury.
- If a child knocks out a permanent tooth, keep it moist or drop it into cup of milk and call the dentist immediately or head to the ER.
- If a child is hit in the mouth–always call the dentist for an exam even if there is no obvious damage.
- If a child chips a tooth–call the dentist even if there is no sensitivity.
- Your child should use a mouth guard for sporting activities!
Start good dental habits early…find your child a dental office home where both you and your child are comfortable. Dental care should not be scary but just a part of good health. Take care of your child’s smile, it is one of the most beautiful things a parent sees!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
- Posted in: Dental health ♦ Growth and Development ♦ Health ♦ Uncategorized
- Tagged: bushing teeth, cavities, dental care, dental caries, dental sealants, dental visit, dentist, flossing, flouride, infant, pacifier use, pediatric dentist, preschooler, school age, teen years, teething, thumb sucking, toddler