Early Dental Care
Infant Tooth Eruption
A child’s teeth actually start forming before birth. As early as 4 months of age, the primary or “baby” teeth push through the gums—the lower central incisors are first, then the upper central incisors. The remainders of the 20 primary teeth typically erupt by age 3, but the place and order varies.
Permanent teeth begin eruption around age 6, starting with the first molars and lower 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
Baby bottle mouth shows up as many areas of black decay across the child’s upper front teeth. Sometimes these teeth are decayed to the point the tooth is destroyed to the gum line leaving only the root. It’s OK to give your baby a bottle while they are awake (day or night) and swallowing well. Just be sure the baby is put to sleep without a mouthful of milk by taking a few minutes to cuddle or perhaps change a diaper while they are awake to encourage swallowing before they drift off to sleep. Letting an infant nurse on demand at night or drink from a propped up bottle during the night is a perfect way to create baby-bottle mouth decay—a preventable dental problem of huge proportions for parent and child!
Normally, the first tooth erupts between ages 6 to 12 months. The gums can be sore and tender which can cause the child to be occasionally irritable till about age three. Rubbing sore gums gently with a clean finger, the back of a cold spoon or a cold, wet cloth helps soothe the gums. Teething rings work well, but avoid teething biscuits—they contain sugar that is not good for baby teeth.
While your baby is teething, it is important to monitor the teeth for signs of baby-bottle decay. 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, liquids pool around the child’s front upper teeth often causing heavy decay there. When children are put to bed or given a propped up bottle of milk or juice or even nursing on demand while sleeping, it results in an overnight sugar bath–a perfect condition for rampant decay to the gum line. It is difficult to fix and very hard on a child, and often requires a large and costly amount of dental work to be done under sedation or anesthesia in the hospital.It is best to avoid baby-bottle mouth entirely. The lower front teeth are protected by the tongue.
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, children with missing primary teeth or children 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 or to be blocked out from erupting. Missing teeth should always be mentioned to your family dentist. The way you and your child care for his/her primary teeth plays a critical role in how he/she treats the permanent teeth. Children should brush their own teeth after they have enough dexterity to tie their own shoes. Before that, they need help from adults. Children and adults are equally susceptible to plaque and gum problems hence, the need for regular care and dental checkups.
A Child’s First Dental Visit
A child’s first visit should be scheduled around his/her second birthday. The most important part of the visit is getting to know and becoming comfortable going to the dentist and the office. A pleasant, comfortable first visit builds trust and helps put the child at ease during future dental visits. If possible, allow the child to sit in a parents lap in the exam room. 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 mostly eat healthy foods like vegetables, low-fat yogurt and cheeses, which promote strong teeth.