Baby teeth, also called primary teeth, are just as important as permanent (adult) teeth. Strong, healthy primary teeth can help your child chew and speak. They also hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are growing under the gums.
When babies are born, they usually have 20 primary teeth that have partly formed inside the gums. The front two upper and lower teeth usually begin to come in (erupt) when the child is between six and 12 months old. Most children have a set of 20 primary teeth in their mouths by the time they are age three.
Your Child's First Visit to the Dentist
Protect your child's teeth by starting dental checkups early. We recommend scheduling a visit between their second and third birthday, depending on the child's behavior, although earlier may be necessary if any questions/concerns arise. If you would like, we encourage you to bring your child to your regular dental visit so he/she can experience what a dental visit is like without being "on the spot". Explain to them what will be done: we will "brush" (clean) their teeth with special toothpaste, "count" the teeth (this is when the doctor does the exam), and if possible place tooth "vitamins" (fluoride treatment, when applicable).
It's best to meet the dentist when your child is having no dental problems - don't wait until an emergency comes up!
Tips for a Positive Dental Visit
1. If possible, schedule a morning appointment when children tend to be rested and cooperative.
2. Stay positive! The dentist will help to keep your child's teeth healthy; keep to yourself any anxiety that you might feel about dental visits.
3. Never bribe your child to go to the dentist or use the visit as a punishment or threat!
4. Try to make your child's dental visit an enjoyable outing. Teaching your child good oral hygiene habits early can lead to a lifetime of good dental health!
What causes tooth decay (aka a cavity)?
Bacteria in the mouth change the sugar in foods and drinks into acid. Each time you eat or drink, this acid can attack the teeth for 20 minutes or longer. After many attacks, tooth decay can develop and lead to cavities.
Tooth decay can occur as soon as your child's first tooth erupts. Parents may wonder why they should worry about decay in baby teeth, since they will be replaced by permanent teeth. The problem is that decay in primary teeth could mean a higher risk of decay in the permanent teeth. And if decay is severe, it can harm the child's overall health.
How to prevent cavities!
Children are at a higher risk for decay if their teeth are exposed to sugar often or for long periods of time. Babies should not be put to bed with a bottle. If your child uses a pacifier, don't dip it in sugar or honey, or put it in your mouth before giving it to the child. If your baby falls asleep with the bottle in his mouth, the liquid can pool around the teeth. Liquids such as fruit juice, soda, and other sweetenened liquids all contain sugar. For this same reason, children should not be allowed to constantly sip on sugary drinks or snack on sugary foods.
Sippy cups or "no spill" cups should only be used until around a child's first birthday. After that, try to get your child to drink from a small open cup.
Healthy eating habits also include a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Always serve nutritious snacks and limit sweets to mealtimes.
We often see children who are given sodas - please avoid those drinks, as their sugar and acid contents are very high!
Cleaning Your Child's Teeth
Cleaning your child's teeth is an important step toward preventing cavities.
After each feeding, wipe the baby's gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth. This will remove plaque and bits of food that can harm erupting teeth. When your child's teeth begin to erupt, brush them gently with a child-sized toothbrush. If your child is not yet two years old, talk to your dentist or pediatrician before using toothpaste with fluoride.
Tips for proper brushing:
1. Position your child so you can see into the mouth easily. You might want to sit, resting his or her head in your lap.
2. Place the toothbrush agains the gums.
3. Move the brush back and forth gently in short (tooth-wide) strokes. Brush the outer surfaces of each tooth, upper and lower. Repeat the same method in the inside surfaces and chewing surfaces of the teeth.
4. Finish by brushing the tongue to help freshen breath and remove bacteria.
Tips for proper flossing:
1. Use about a foot of floss. Wind most of it aorund the middle fingers of both hands. Hold the floss between the thumbs and forefingers. Use a gentle, back-and-forth motion to guide the floss between the teeth.
2. Curve the floss into a C-shape and guide it into the space between the gum and tooth until you feel resistance. Gently scrap the floss against the side of the tooth.
3. Repeat these steps on each tooth. Don't forget the backs of the last teeth in each corner of the mouth.
Flossing is not easy for a child. You should floss your child's teeth until he or she can do it alone, usually around age 10 or 11. Every child is different, however. Your dentist and hygienist can show you how to floss.