Your child’s first set of teeth are called “primary teeth”. These teeth are more important than most people realize. Healthy primary teeth assist in children’s chewing ability and speech development. They also act as “space-savers” in the jaw for the positioning of permanent teeth. Maintaining the health of their primary teeth may reduce the need for future orthodontic work. Most importantly, a strong, beautiful smile helps your child to develop good self-esteem.
Potential Problems & Solutions
Children’s teeth are often exposed to unique and inherent problems. Left uncorrected, these issues can become serious.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Infants and young children often suffer what is known as “baby bottle” tooth decay. This occurs when sugary liquids found in milk, formula or fruit juices are exposed to the teeth for long periods of time.
When asleep saliva decreases. This allows these sugars to pool around the teeth. The mouth’s bacteria uses these sugars to create acids that damage teeth. Your child’s teeth should be checked on a regular basis for any brown spots which may mark the onset of tooth decay. Regular brushing should start with the first tooth but it is also a good idea to clean your child’s gums with a washcloth after feeding even before the first tooth appears. To avoid baby bottle decay, do not let your child sleep with a bottle. If you feel a bottle is necessary, fill it with water.
In most cases thumb sucking is not harmful and most children will outgrow it by the age of 5. It becomes a problem when it is allowed to continue while permanent teeth are developing. The jawbone in children under the age of 8 is still soft and pliable. Thumb sucking can reshape the jaw and cause mis-alignment. Upper teeth will flare outwards while lower teeth are forced inwards. After age 5 children should be encouraged to stop their thumb sucking. If a child is having difficulty quitting, you may want to set up a rewards program for each time or day that they do not suck their thumb. Praise is always a good reward. If you are still having difficulty, your dentist can place an appliance in your child’s mouth that should end the thumb sucking within days.
Good dental hygiene and health in the early years will help your child develop a positive relationship with their dentist and may avoid extensive dental work in the future. To avoid any negativity associated with tooth decay, in addition to proper brushing and dental cleaning you may want to consider “Sealants”.
A Sealant is a clear, acrylic-like material that bonds with the tooth to help shield out the decay causing bacteria. They are a safe, painless and low cost way to protect your child’s teeth. They are usually applied to molars since the pits and fissures of the molars are the most likely locations for cavities. Sealants should be applied when the first permanent molars (6-7 years) appear and again when the second permanent molars (11-13 years) appear. They need to be applied before the decay process begins. In cases where there is a high risk of tooth decay, sealants may be applied to primary molars as well. Since primary teeth are “space-savers” for future permanent teeth, losing them to tooth decay may cause future orthodontic problems. Have your dentist assess whether or not sealants are warranted for your child.
An Orthodontist diagnoses and treats problems associated with the positioning of the teeth. Crowded, crooked or mis-aligned teeth can cause problems with speech, tooth decay, joints, gum disease and/or may cause teeth to be chipped or lost. It is generally recommended that children have an Orthodontic assessment by the age of 7. Since the jaw bone is still soft and pliable up until the age of 8, early assessments allow for corrections in alignment which may be much more difficult to correct later.
Your First Dental Visit
Generally, the first visit includes an overall assessment of your child’s teeth and gums. Your dentist may want to take x-rays to examine facial bones and search for hidden decay. They may also recommend a cleaning and fluoride treatment. You can consider bringing your child to see dentist as early as 6 months of age but it is recommended that their first dental visit be no later than age 3. Preparing for these early experiences reduces the likelihood of your child becoming dental phobic. Choose your dentist carefully. Assure their office promotes a positive environment that makes both you and your child feel comfortable. Explain to your child what to expect during their initial visit. You may want to ask your dentist what procedures will be done ahead of time, so that you can prepare your child properly for each stage of their visit. Often the process of cleaning and exams is more frightening than the dentist. Consider having your child watch you get a cleaning or exam before it is their turn. Pick a time of day when your child is generally well rested. Children are intuitive. Be careful not to pass on your own fears or anxieties about dental visits to your children, Assure you are positive and prepared for the experience.
After their initial visit, it is recommended that children visit their dentist every 6 months. Establishing good dental habits and positive experiences early, is important for your child’s long-term dental health.
Long term dental health requires good dental hygiene at an early age and positive, initial experiences with your child’s dentist.