Usually, the front four teeth begin to appear when the baby is between 6 to 12 months old. Some babies experience sore or tender gums while teething. Gently rubbing the child’s gums with a clean finger or cool, wet washcloth can be soothing. A clean teething ring may also help. Contrary to common belief, fever is not normal while teething. If a fever is present, call your physician.
Most children have a full set of 20 primary (baby) teeth by age 3. Primary teeth are as important as permanent teeth are for chewing, speaking, and appearance. They also help “hold” space in the mouth for the permanent teeth.
Tooth decay can happen as soon as the teeth are present. Decay in primary teeth can damage the developing permanent teeth. When sugar and starch from food or drinks combine with plaque (a film of bacteria), an acid is produced that attacks tooth enamel; this can eventually result in cavities. Therefore, limiting snacks and sweet drinks can reduce the occurrence of cavities.
One serious form of decay among children is baby bottle tooth decay. This condition is caused by frequent and long exposures of a child’s teeth to liquids that contain sugar. Among these liquids are milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juice, and any other liquid besides water.
If you must give the child a bottle as a comforter at bedtime, it should contain only water. Putting a child to bed with a bottle containing anything other than water can cause serious and rapid tooth decay.
After each feeding, wipe the child’s teeth and gums with a damp wash cloth, gauze pad, or toothbrush to remove plaque.
Sucking is a natural reflex for infants and young children. They may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects to soothe themselves. Thumb sucking that continues beyond the eruption of the permanent teeth can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. Children usually stop between the ages of 2-4 years on their own, but must be encouraged to stop by the time their permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb sucking; they can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs.
A good diet is essential for a child’s growth and development. Like the rest of the body, the teeth, bones, and soft tissues of the mouth need a well-balanced diet. Various factors can determine how foods affect a child’s teeth. The more frequently a child snacks, the greater the chances for tooth decay. The length of time food remains in the mouth also plays a role. For example, hard candy and breath mints stay in the mouth a long time, causing prolonged acid attacks on the tooth enamel.
Brushing and flossing help remove harmful plaque bacteria. A child-size brush with soft, rounded bristles is recommended. Check your child’s toothbrush often and replace it when it is worn. Begin daily brushing as soon as the first tooth erupts. A pea-size amount of toothpaste can be used once the child is old enough to spit it out. By age 6 or 7, children should be able to brush their own teeth with supervision.
Flossing, however, is a more difficult skill to master. It is never too early to begin flossing the child’s teeth!
A sealant is a clear or white plastic material that is applied to the pits and fissures (depressions and grooves) of the chewing surfaces on permanent back teeth (premolars and molars), where decay occurs most often. The pits and fissures are difficult to keep clean as toothbrush bristles do not reach into them. The sealant forms a thin covering that keeps plaque and food out and decreases the risk of tooth decay. As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface should be protected from decay. Sealants usually last several years before a reapplication is needed.
Regular dental visits are essential for maintaining a healthy smile. Take your child to see the dentist by his or her first birthday. Although this may seem early, the dentist can explain how the child’s teeth should be cleaned at home, how diet and eating habits affect teeth, and examine for tooth decay. The first cleaning appointment can be scheduled between the ages of 2 and 3.
Malocclusion is a condition in which the teeth are crooked, out of alignment, or the jaws don’t come together properly. This condition may become particularly noticeable between the ages of 6 and 12, when the permanent teeth are coming in. Malocclusion may be inherited or result from events in the child’s development. Orthodontic treatment can help most malocclusion issues, however, the starting age, duration of treatment, the type of appliances used, the outcome of the treatment, and the cost of treatment depends upon the nature and severity of the malocclusion.
When a child begins to participate in recreational activities and organized sports, injuries can occur. Mouth guards are an important piece of protective gear for children and adults. A custom mouth guard made in the dental office or dental lab is significantly more protective than one purchased from a store. The custom mouth guard helps prevent broken teeth, injuries to the lips and face, jaw fractures and concussions. These mouth guards are durable, stay in place well, are easy to breathe with and can even be made for the child wearing braces.