Many parents have a tough time judging how much dental care their kids need. They know they want to prevent cavities, but they don't always know the best way to do so. Here are some tips and guidelines.
Good dental care begins before a baby's first tooth appears. Just because you can't see the teeth doesn't mean they aren't there. Teeth actually begin to form in the second trimester of pregnancy. At birth, your baby has 20 primary teeth, some of which are fully developed in the jaw.
Here's when and how to care for those little choppers:
Even babies can develop tooth decay if good feeding habits aren't practiced. Putting a baby to sleep with a bottle might be convenient, but can harm the baby's teeth. When the sugars from juice or milk remain on a baby's teeth for hours, they can eat away at the enamel, creating a condition known as bottle mouth. Pocked, pitted, or discolored front teeth are signs of bottle mouth. Kids with severe cases might develop cavities and need all of their front teeth pulled (permanent teeth will grow in later).
Parents and childcare providers should help young kids set specific times for drinking each day because sucking on a bottle throughout the day can be equally damaging to young teeth. Babies as young as 6 months are encouraged to switch from a bottle to a sippy cup (with a straw or hard spout). By 12 months of age, they'll have the motor skills and coordination to use the cup on their own.
The ADA recommends that children see a dentist by their first birthday. At this first visit, the dentist will explain proper brushing and flossing techniques and do a modified exam while your baby sits on your lap.
These visits can help find potential problems early and help kids get used to visiting the dentist so they'll have less fear about going as they get older. Consider taking your child to a dentist who specializes in treating kids. Pediatric dentists are trained to handle the wide range of issues associated with kids' dental health. They also know when to refer you to a different type of specialist, such as an orthodontist to correct an overbite or an oral surgeon for jaw realignment.
If a child seems to be at risk for cavities or other problems, the dentist may start applying topical fluoride even before all teeth come in (this also can be done in the pediatrician's office). Fluoride hardens the tooth enamel, helping to ward off the most common childhood oral disease — dental cavities (also called dental caries).
Cavities happen when bacteria and food left on the teeth after eating are not brushed away. Acid collects on a tooth, softening its enamel until a hole — or cavity — forms.
Here's how to keep cavities away:
As your child's permanent teeth grow in, the dentist can help prevent decay by applying a thin wash of resin (called a sealant) to the back teeth, where most chewing is done. This protective coating keeps bacteria from settling in the hard-to-reach crevices of the molars. But make sure that kids know that sealants aren't a replacement for good brushing and regular flossing.
If you are prone to tooth decay or gum disease, your kids might be at higher risk as well. So sometimes even the most best brushing and flossing habits can't prevent a cavity. Be sure to call your dentist if your child complains of tooth pain, which could be a sign of a cavity that needs treatment.
New materials mean pediatric dentists have more filling and repair options than ever. A silver-colored material called amalgam (a special mix of metals) was once the substance of choice for most fillings in permanent teeth. But now, other materials like composite resins are becoming popular. Resins bond to the teeth so the filling won't pop out, and also can be used to rebuild teeth damaged through injury or conditions like a cleft palate. Because resins are often tooth-colored, they're considered more attractive.
But in cases of fracture, extensive decay, or malformation of baby teeth, dentists often opt for stainless steel or ceramic crowns. Crowns maintain the tooth while preventing the decay from spreading.
As kids get older, their bite and the straightness of their teeth can become an issue. Orthodontic treatment begins earlier now than it used to, but what once was a symbol of preteen embarrassment — a mouth filled with metal wires and braces — is a relic of the past. Kids as young as age 7 now sport corrective appliances, and efficient, plastic-based (sometimes clear) materials have replaced old-fashioned metal.
Dentists know that manipulation of teeth at a younger age can be easier and more effective in the long run. Younger children's teeth can be positioned with relatively minor orthodontic devices, preventing major treatment later on.
In some rare instances, usually when a more complicated dental procedure is to be done, a dentist will recommend using general anesthesia. Parents should make sure that the professional who gives the medicine is a trained anesthesiologist or oral surgeon before agreeing to the procedure. Don't be afraid ask your dentist questions.
Regular checkups and good dental hygiene can help prevent the need for this kind of extensive dental work. Also, encourage your kids to use a mouthguard during sports, which can prevent serious dental injuries.
As kids grow, plan on routine dental checkups anywhere from once every 3 months to once a year, depending on your dentist's recommendations. Keeping sugary foods in check, encouraging regular brushing and flossing, and working with your dentist will all contribute to your child's good dental health.
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: May 2015
|American Dental Association (ADA) The ADA provides information for dental patients and consumers.|
|American Academy of Periodontology The American Academy of Periodontology provides information for consumers and dental patients about gum disease and oral health.|
|MouthPower This site was created by the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, Maryland. Through games and other activities, kids can learn how to take care of their teeth and mouth.|
|Healthy Teeth Produced by dentists, Healthy Teeth is designed for elementary-age students curious about oral health.|
|Fluoride and Water Keeping kids' teeth healthy requires more than just daily brushing. Learn about fluoride, a substance found naturally in water that plays an important role in healthy teeth.|
|How Does Fluoride Work? Fluoride fights cavities. Find out how in this article for kids.|
|First Aid: Teeth Injuries If your child loses a baby tooth, there's no need to replace it. But if a permanent tooth is dislodged, it's a dental emergency. Here's what to do.|
|Dealing With a Knocked-Out Tooth A knocked-out tooth is a dental emergency. Find out what to do by reading this printable instruction sheet.|
|Gum Disease Gum disease doesn't just happen to people your grandparents' age - it can happen to teens too. Get the details here.|
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|Affording Braces Braces are expensive, so what do you do if your family can't afford the cost? Find out in this article for kids.|
|The Reality of Retainers Retainers are really common. In fact, most kids have to wear a retainer for at least a little while after getting their braces taken off. Find out more.|
|The Basics of Braces Does your child need braces? Find out when braces are necessary, what's involved in caring for them, and how to find low-cost orthodontic care in your area.|
|Braces Braces are a fact of life for many kids. Find out how they work and how to take care of them.|
|Bruxism (Teeth Grinding or Clenching) Gnashing and grinding teeth, called bruxism, is common in kids, and often occurs during deep sleep or while under stress.|
|Taking the Bite Out of Bruxism Bruxism is another word for grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. It usually happens without you knowing you're doing it, but it can be noisy at night. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Mouth and Teeth Did you know that your mouth is the first step in the body's digestive process? Or that the mouth and teeth are essential for speech? Learn about the many roles your mouth and teeth play.|
|Your Teeth There's much more to a tooth than meets the eye. This article for kids gives you the inside story.|
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|What's a Cavity? Cavities are small holes in your teeth that need to be filled. Find out what causes tooth decay and how dentists handle it.|
|Taking Care of Your Teeth There's a lot more to taking care of your teeth than breath mints and mouth sprays. Read this article to learn the facts on flossing, how to give plaque the brush-off, and much more.|
|Going to the Orthodontist An orthodontist prevents and treats mouth, teeth, and jaw problems using braces, retainers, and other devices.|
|Taking Care of Your Teeth The healthier your teeth are, the happier you look. That's why it's important to take great care of your teeth by brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist. Learn more.|
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