Your child’s teeth and oral hygiene are important for the overall state of health. Diligent dental care for your child should begin prior to teeth breaking through the gums. The teeth in a fetus are developed early in gestation, and there are 20 teeth that are formed in the second trimester of pregnancy, fully developed and present under the gum tissue. Parents can take steps early to help a child to have excellent oral hygiene and avoid serious dental problems in the future.
Baby teeth will pop through the gums at some point between the ages of 3 – 12 months, and most babies will have their first teeth at about 6 months of age. Before the teeth arrive, you can begin the process of protecting your baby’s oral health by wiping the gums with a soft washcloth, soft brush or gauze. Once the precious baby teeth have arrived, wipe them with a washcloth or wet baby toothbrush after every meal and before bed. Your child will become used to this process if you start early, and it can make a big difference in maintaining baby teeth, which are softer and can more easily become decayed.
Never give your child juice or milk in a bottle before bed – only water if he or she needs a bottle to get to sleep. If you start early, this is not a problem. The liquid pools behind the teeth, and can lead to decay and ruin baby teeth. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reports that about 20% of children from ages 5 to 11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth. The American Society of Pediatrics suggests you take your child to the dentist if you notice spots or stains on the teeth, and that once your child has reached the age of three, you can begin to use toothpaste, although a very small amount, as children tend to swallow toothpaste. Choose a brand that has less sweetener to reduce the potential for swallowing the substance, particularly if it contains fluoride. You need to apply the toothpaste to the brush yourself, and only use a very small amount, about the size of a pea.
Children (and adults) love sugar, but early on, if you give your child healthy options, they will not develop the early addiction to sugary treats. Your child’s snacks should be fruit, vegetables, crackers and other foods rather than sugar treats, and developing good eating habits early can not only help to reduce tooth decay, it can help you teach your child good eating habits and appreciation for nutritious foods.
Your child should have the first dental appointment for the first time by age 1, and research has established that children who begin dental examinations early in life are more likely to have fewer cavities and fillings than children whose parents wait until they are older. Part of the process is getting your child familiar with going to the dentist, and comfortable in that environment. The dentist can evaluate what is going on in your child’s mouth, and whether there is any issue that should be resolved, such as teeth becoming misplaced due to thumb-sucking or pacifier use.
Children are prone to fall, as their heads are far heavier in proportion to the body than is found in adults. Thankfully, they are also much lower to the ground, and many falls cause no damage. It is not uncommon for a baby or young child to break a tooth in a fall or other impact, and your dentist can help you to resolve this issue with the least amount of trauma to your little one.
Your child can begin using a toothbrush early, and the two of you do the task. Never use fluoride toothpaste with a baby or toddler – it can lead to fluorosis, a chronic condition in which the teeth are mottled in color, and in severe cases, can calcify the ligaments. It is advised that you find the healthiest form of baby toothpaste you can, and only use a very small amount.
Your child’s oral hygiene is an important health issue, and as parents, becoming informed can help you maintain and preserve your child’s teeth. Read all you can on the subject, and use the many resources you can access sites provided by government agencies such as the CDC and professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry for resources for parents on child dental health and oral hygiene. Study the materials, and help your child have a healthier future!