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Early Dental Care


Normally the first tooth erupts between ages 6 to 12 months. Gums are sore, tender and sometimes irritable until the age of 3. Rubbing sore gums gently with a clean finger, the back of a cold spoon or a cold, wet cloth may help soothe the gums. Teething rings work well, but avoid teething biscuits—they can contain sugar that is not good for baby teeth.

Infant’s New Teeth

The primary, or “baby,” teeth play a crucial role in dental development. Without them, a child cannot chew food properly and has difficulty speaking clearly. Primary teeth are vital to development of the jaws and for guiding the permanent (secondary) teeth into place when they replace the primary teeth around age 6.

Since primary teeth guide the permanent teeth into place, infants with missing primary teeth or infants who prematurely lose primary teeth may require a space maintainer, a device used to hold the natural space open. Without a maintainer, the teeth can tilt toward the empty space and cause permanent teeth to come in crooked. Missing teeth should always be mentioned to your family dentist.

The way your child learns to care for his/her primary teeth plays a critical role in how he/she treats the permanent teeth. Helping your child to learn proper tooth cleaning techniques happens over time as the child becomes more and more able to care for themselves. Independent tooth cleaning isn’t really possible until your child is quite a bit older than you would expect. When they are very capable of tying their shoes, and writing paragraphs in cursive, they are probably able to adequately clean their teeth with tooth brushing and flossing. Until this time is important to complete team brushing and flossing daily with your child. A parent should brush and floss for their child at least once a day, and then give them the opportunity to practice their techniques as well.

Children and adults are equally susceptible to plaque and gum problems—hence, the need for regular care and dental check-ups.

A Child’s First Dental Visit

A child’s first dental visit should be scheduled around his/her first birthday. The most important part of the visit is getting to know and becoming comfortable with a doctor and the dental office staff. A pleasant, comfortable first visit builds trust and helps put the child at ease during future dental visits. Parents are welcomed to accompany their child for their first visit. It is a great opportunity for the dentist to show you how to care for your child’s teeth, and to point out anything that could use extra attention in your child’s mouth. Children should be encouraged to discuss any fears or anxiety they feel.

Why Primary Teeth Are Important

Primary teeth are important for several reasons. Foremost, good teeth allow a child to eat and maintain good nutrition. Healthy teeth allow for clear pronunciation and speech habits. The self-image that healthy teeth give a child is immeasurable. Primary teeth also guide eruption of the permanent teeth.

Good Diet and Healthy Teeth

The teeth, bones and soft tissue of the mouth require a healthy, well-balanced diet. A variety of foods from the five food groups helps minimize (and avoid) cavities and other dental problems. Most snacks that children eat cause cavities, so children should receive healthy foods a majority of the time, like vegetables, low-fat yogurt and cheeses, which promote strong teeth. Keep in mind that sticky sugary snacks and beverages will cause the most damage to your child’s teeth.

Infant Tooth Eruption

A child’s teeth actually start forming before birth. As early as 4 months of age, the primary or “baby” teeth start to push through the gums—the lower central incisors are first, then the upper central incisors. The remainder of the 20 primary teeth typically erupt by age 3, the place and order varies.

Permanent teeth begin eruption around age 6, starting with the first molars- coming in behind the baby molars, and lower central incisors- coming in from underneath the baby central incisors. This process continues until around age 21. Adults have 28 secondary (permanent) teeth—32 including the third molars (wisdom teeth).

Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

It is important to monitor the teeth for signs of baby bottle decay. Examine the teeth, especially on the inside or the tongue side, every two weeks for dull spots (whiter than the tooth surface) or lines. A bottle containing anything other than water and left in an infant’s mouth while sleeping can cause decay. This happens because sugar in the liquid mixes with bacteria in dental plaque, forming acids that attack the tooth enamel. Each time a child drinks liquids containing sugar, acids attack the teeth for about 20 minutes. When awake, saliva carries away the liquid. During sleep, the saliva flow significantly decreases and liquids pool around the child’s teeth for long periods, covering the teeth in acids. For this reason, it is best to not allow your baby to fall asleep while eating, or to have access to their bottle during naps or in the night.

Tooth decay in infants can be minimized or totally prevented by not allowing sleeping infants to breast or bottle-feed. Infants that seem to prefer a bottle to comfortably fall asleep should be given a pacifier. Our office is dedicated to fighting baby bottle tooth decay. Let us know if you notice any signs of decay or anything unusual in your child’s mouth.