Guest article by Sheila Shah, DMD
A smile is meant to last a lifetime.
Taking the time to teach your child proper oral care is actually an investment that can pay lifelong dividends. Lessons for good oral care should begin when a child is still very young.
Parents sometimes fail to recognize the value of starting dental care at such an early age. Perhaps it’s because they reason these are “only baby teeth,” and think because those teeth will be lost in the future they aren’t as important as “permanent teeth.” However, just as preparing a solid foundation for a house is essential to building a strong home, your child’s gums, baby teeth and other oral structures are the preparation blocks for a strong and healthy maturing smile.
First teeth in children arrive between 3 and 16 months (usually around 6 months). The two bottom front teeth come first, followed by four upper teeth in 4-8 weeks. New teeth should continue to emerge at the rate of about 4 teeth every 4 months to total 20 primary teeth around the age of 3. Around age 6 to 7 (and sometimes earlier), children will begin to shed their teeth, ending with loss of the 2nd molars around age 11-13. Permanent teeth begin to erupt at 6-7 years of age, continuing until the 3rd molars (or wisdom teeth) arrive, usually between 17 and 22 years of age.
When your child’s teeth begin erupting, clean them by wiping with a moist washcloth. Pay particular attention if your child has cavity risk factors like sleeping with a cup or bottle, or extended sipping on a cup of juice throughout the day. Additionally, if your child has any persistent habits like thumb sucking, using a pacifier as a toddler, or grinding teeth at night (bruxism), you may want to consult your family dentist. If your dentist suggests a first visit should be delayed until 4 or 5 years old, then you may want to see a Pediatric dentist for the first few years.
According to recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAP), the first visit to a dentist should be when the first tooth comes in; they used to recommend the first visit to the dentist be at 3 years of age. But now, because so many children have cavities by the time they start kindergarten, the AAP states that high risk children should see a dentist six months after their first tooth erupts or before they are 12 months old.
As more teeth arrive, use a child’s soft toothbrush. One of the best ways to help your child learn about the importance of their own dental care is to start by setting an example. Taking good care of your own teeth sends a message that children will notice. Encourage proper oral care by brushing your teeth along with your child. Let them choose their own toothbrush and find ways to make the activity fun.
Until your child is old enough to spit, just a pea-sized amount of toothpaste will do. Be sure to brush not only the outer and chewing surfaces of each tooth, but also the inside surface of teeth where plaque tends to accumulate most. And don’t forget to brush the tongue.
Reduce your child’s risk of getting cavities and protect their teeth and gums by teaching them the following
- Brush twice a day with an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste to remove plaque (the sticky film on teeth) which is the main cause of tooth decay.
- Remove plaque between your teeth and under the gum line by flossing daily. Parents should begin assisting children at the age of 4 with flossing, but most kids by the age of 8 can floss on their own. Flossing removes plaque before it can harden into tartar which can only be removed with professional cleaning once it forms.
- Use an ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and limit starchy or sugary foods which produce plaque acids that cause tooth decay.
- Visit your dentist for regular checkups.
Dr. Sheila Shah, DMD, LLC, offers Laser, Cosmetic, and General Dentistry at MaconSmiles, located in Macon, GA. She is a 1995 graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, and is committed to staying on the cutting edge of advancements in the field of dentistry. www.MaconSmiles.com