Taking Care of Your Baby's Teeth (and Future Teeth!)
Congratulations on the arrival of your baby! Are you prepared for the arrival of your baby's first tooth? Follow these guidelines and your baby will be on his or her way to a lifetime of healthy smiles!
Caring for Gums
Even before your baby's first tooth appears, their gums can benefit from your careful attention. After breast- or bottle-feeding, wrap one finger with a clean, damp washcloth or piece of gauze and gently rub it across your baby's gum tissue. This practice both clears your little one's mouth of any fragments of food and begins the process of building a good habit of daily oral care.
Baby's First Tooth
When that first tooth makes an entrance, it's time to upgrade to a baby toothbrush. There are usually two options: a long-handled toothbrush that you and your baby can hold at the same time, and a finger-puppet-like brush that fits over the tip of your pointer finger. In each case the bristles are soft and few. At this stage, toothpaste isn't necessary; just dip the brush in water before brushing.
If your little one doesn't react well to the introduction of a toothbrush, don't give up; switch back to a damp washcloth for a few months, then try the toothbrush again. During the teething process your child will want to chew on just about anything—a baby toothbrush with a teether can become a favorite toy during this period.
Brushing with Toothpaste
When a few more teeth appear, you can start using toothpaste with your child's brush. However, for the first three years, be sure to choose toothpaste that does not contain fluoride. Too much fluoride can be dangerous for youngsters.
At this stage, use only a tiny amount of toothpaste. From the beginning, have your little one practice spitting the toothpaste out after brushing. This will prepare him or her for fluoride toothpaste, which should not be swallowed at any age.
Don't give your baby any sort of sweetened liquids such as flavored drinks or soda. Even the sugars present in fruit juice, formula, and milk (this goes for breast milk as well) can cause decay, so regular tooth and gum cleaning is vital. Also, make sure your baby never goes to bed with a bottle – sugary liquids in prolonged contact with his or her teeth are a guarantee for early-childhood decay, also called baby-bottle caries.
First Visit to the Dentist
It's recommended that you bring your child in with you for your appointments, so that they may get comfortable in a dental setting. Since decay can occur in even the smallest of teeth, the earlier your baby visits us, the more likely he or she is to avoid problems. We'll look for any signs of early problems with your baby's oral heath, and check in with you about the best way to care for his or her teeth.
Remember that preparing for each dental visit with a positive attitude goes a long way toward making your child comfortable with regular check-ups.
Setting a Good Example
As part of the natural learning process, little ones are expert mimics, and you can take advantage of this talent. Brush and floss daily while your child is watching, and he or she will intuit at an early age the importance of your good habits. As soon as your child shows interest, give him or her a toothbrush and encourage him or her to "brush" with you. (You'll find toothbrushes with chunky, short handles that are easy for your child to grip.)
Most children don't have the dexterity necessary to thoroughly clean their own teeth until they're about six or seven years old, so you'll have to do that part of the job for him or her. Try different tactics to make brushing fun: flavored toothpaste, a toothbrush with a favorite character on it, singing songs about brushing. The primary goal is to instill healthy oral habits at an early age to set your child up for a lifetime of healthy, cavity-free teeth!
We have gathered all the frequently asked questions from parents about their child's oral health, and if you have any more inquiries, please don't hesitate to reach out to us.
When should I schedule my child's first visit to the dentist?
We recommend that you begin bringing your child with you when you have a regular recall hygiene visit. This acquaints them with the office setting, and they begin to learn what is involved with a dental appointment. Time permitting, and if the child allows it, the hygienist will check their teeth while they sit in your lap.
What happens during my child's first visit to the dentist?
We will check your child's teeth for placement and health, and look for any potential problems with the gums and jaw. The hygienist will do as much as the child will allow.
Treatment is not forced and eventually, the child will be able to have a complete appointment.
How can I prepare my child for his or her first dental appointment?
The best preparation for your child's first visit to our office is maintaining a positive attitude. Children pick up on adults' apprehensions and if you make negative comments about trips to the dentist, you can be sure that your child will fear an unpleasant experience and act accordingly. Show your child the pictures of the office and staff on the website.
Let your child know that it's important to keep his or her teeth and gums healthy and that the doctor will help them do that. Remember that your dentist, and our staff, excel at putting children at ease during treatment.
How often should my child visit the dentist?
We generally recommend scheduling check-ups every six months. Depending on the circumstances of your child's oral health, we may recommend more frequent visits. Every child is different as to when they will allow us to actually treat them.
We never force treatment on a child, unless it is an emergency. When the hygienist feels the child is ready for their own appointment, we will do so. Sometimes, it is in the best interest of the child to be referred to a pediatric dentist for treatment.
Baby teeth aren't permanent; why do they need special care?
Although they don't last as long as permanent teeth, your child's first teeth play an important role in his or her development. While they're in place, these primary teeth help your little one speak, smile and chew properly. Some baby teeth remain functioning until age 13 or 14. They also hold space in the jaw for permanent teeth.
If a child loses a tooth too early – due to damage or decay – nearby teeth may encroach on that space, which can result in crooked or misplaced permanent teeth. Also, your child's general health is affected by the oral health of the teeth and gums.
What's the best way to clean my baby's teeth?
Even before your baby's first tooth appears, we recommend you clean their gums after feedings with a damp, soft washcloth. As soon as your child's first tooth appears, you can start using a toothbrush. Choose a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head. You can most likely find a toothbrush designed for infants at your local drugstore.
At what age is it appropriate to use toothpaste to clean my child's teeth?
Once your child has a few teeth, you can start using toothpaste on the brush. Use only a tiny amount for each cleaning, and be sure to choose toothpaste without fluoride for children under three, as too much fluoride can be dangerous for very young children.
Always have your child rinse and spit out toothpaste after brushing, to begin a lifelong habit he or she will need when they graduate to fluoride toothpaste. Children naturally want to swallow toothpaste after brushing, and swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can cause teeth to stain. You should brush your child's teeth for him or her until they are ready to take on that responsibility themselves, which usually happens by age six or seven.
What causes cavities?
Certain types of bacteria live in our mouths. When these bacteria come into contact with sugary foods left behind on our teeth after eating, acids are produced. These acids attack the enamel on the exterior of the teeth, eventually eating through the enamel and creating holes in the teeth, which we call cavities.
How can I help my child avoid cavities?
Be sure that your child brushes his or her teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Flossing daily is also important, as flossing can reach spots between the teeth that brushing can't. Avoid sugary foods and drinks, limit snacking, and maintain a healthy diet. Finally, make regular appointments so that we can check the health of your child's teeth and provide professional cleanings.
The frequent use of sodas, juices, power or energy drinks, gum, and breath lozenges is a major factor in an increased level of cavities. If you put it in your mouth and it tastes good, it probably contains sugar.
Does my child need dental sealants?
Sealants cover the pits and fissures in teeth that are difficult to brush and, therefore, susceptible to decay. We recommend sealants as a safe, simple way to help your child avoid cavities, especially for molars, which are hardest to reach.
My child plays sports; how can I protect his or her teeth?
Even children's sports involve contact, and we recommend mouthguards for children active in sports. If your little one plays baseball, soccer, or other sports, ask us about having a custom-fitted mouthguard made to protect his or her teeth, lips, cheeks, and gums.
What should I do if my child sucks his thumb?
The large majority of children suck their thumbs or fingers as infants, and most grow out of it by the age of four, without causing any permanent damage to their teeth.
If your child continues sucking after permanent teeth erupt, or sucks aggressively, let us know and we can check to see if any problems may arise from the habit. Thumbsucking by itself may not be harmful, unless it is done frequently and intensely.
When should my child have dental x-rays taken?
We recommend taking x-rays around the age of two or three. The first set consists of simple pictures of the front upper and lower teeth, which familiarizes your child with the process. Once the baby teeth in back are touching each other, then regular (at least yearly) x-rays are recommended.
Permanent teeth start coming in around age six, and x-rays help us make sure your child's teeth and jaw are healthy and properly aligned. If your child is at a high risk of dental problems, we may suggest having x-rays taken at an earlier age.
If you face a dental emergency, give us a call immediately. If you need urgent treatment after hours, you can call our emergency number. We are always here to assist when your child's dental health is at risk.
Below are tips on dealing with urgent dental situations; you may want to display this list on your refrigerator or store it near your emergency phone numbers for easy reference. Remember to remain calm; everything will be fine. Rarely is it as bad as it seems.
Bitten Lip or Tongue
If your child has bitten his or her lip or tongue severely enough to cause bleeding, clean the bite gently with water and use a cold compress (a cold, wet towel or washcloth pressed firmly against the area) to reduce or avoid swelling. Give us a call to help determine how serious the bite is. Remain calm, and in a few minutes, after the shock of the trauma subsides, your child will calm down also.
Object Caught in Teeth
If your child has something caught between his or her teeth, use dental floss to gently remove it. Never use a metal, plastic, or sharp tool to remove a stuck object. If you are unable to remove the item with dental floss, give us a call.
Broken, Chipped, or Fractured Tooth
If your child has chipped or broken a piece off of his or her tooth, have them rinse their mouth with warm water, then use a cold compress to reduce swelling. Try to locate and save the tooth fragment that broke off. Call us immediately. Establish that any tooth displacement does not prevent your child from biting down on their back teeth properly.
Knocked Out Tooth
If your child's tooth has been knocked out of his or her mouth, find the tooth and rinse it with water (no soap), taking care to only touch the crown of the tooth (the part you can see when it's in place).
If you can, place the tooth back in its socket and hold it in place with a clean towel or cloth. If you can't return the tooth to its socket, place it in a clean container with milk. In either case, call us immediately and/or head to the hospital. If you act quickly, it's possible to save the tooth. Baby teeth, generally, are not replaced, whereas adult teeth should be replaced as soon as possible.
If your child has a very loose baby tooth, it should be removed to avoid being swallowed or inhaled. If it is an adult tooth, reposition it as best as possible and contact our office.
If your child complains of a toothache, rinse his or her mouth with warm water and inspect the teeth to be sure there is nothing caught between them. If pain continues, use a cold compress to ease the pain. Do not apply heat or any kind of aspirin or topical pain reliever directly to the affected area, as this can cause damage to the gums.
Children's pain relievers may be taken orally. Schedule an appointment immediately.
If you know or suspect your child has sustained a broken jaw, use a cold compress to reduce swelling. Call our emergency number and/or head to the hospital immediately. In many cases a broken jaw is the result of a blow to the head. Severe blows to the head can be dangerous and even life-threatening.
You can help your child avoid dental emergencies. Child-proof your house to avoid falls. Don't let your child chew on ice, popcorn kernels, or other hard foods. Always use car seats for young children and require seatbelts for older children.
If your child plays contact sports, have him or her wear a mouthguard. Ask us about creating a custom-fitted mouthguard for your child. Finally, prevent toothaches with regular brushing, flossing, and visits to our office.
Along with favorite blankets, teddy bears, and nap time, thumb-sucking can be one of the most comforting aspects of childhood. According to a recent report, between 75% and 95% of infants suck their thumbs, so chances are there's a thumb-sucker (or a former thumb-sucker) in your family. Is this cause for worry?
In most cases, no. However, it's important to pay attention to your child's habits, in case his or her behavior has the potential to affect their oral health.
What is normal thumb-sucking behavior?
The majority of children suck a thumb or a finger from a very young age; most even start inside the womb. Sucking is a natural reflex for an infant, and it serves an important purpose. Sucking often provides a sense of security and contentment for a young one. It can also be relaxing, which is why many children suck their thumbs as they fall asleep.
According to the American Dental Association, most children stop thumb-sucking on their own between the ages of two and four. They simply grow out of a habit that is no longer useful to them.
However, some children continue sucking beyond the preschool years (although studies show that the older a child gets, the lower his or her chances are of continuing thumb-sucking). If your child is still sucking when his or her permanent teeth start to erupt, it may be time to take action to break the habit.
What signs should I watch for?
First, take note of how your child sucks his or her thumb. If they suck passively, with their thumb gently resting inside their mouth, they are less likely to cause damage. If, on the other hand, he or she is an aggressive thumb-sucker, placing pressure on the mouth or teeth, the habit may cause problems with tooth alignment and proper mouth growth.
Extended sucking affects both the teeth and the shape of the face and may lead to a need for orthodontic treatment in the future.
If at any time you suspect your child's thumb-sucking may be affecting his or her oral health, please give us a call or bring them in for a visit. We can help you assess the situation.
How can I help my child quit thumb-sucking?
Should you need to help your child end his habit, follow these guidelines:● Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb-sucking, give praise when he or she doesn't suck.● Put a band-aid on his or her thumb or a sock over his or her hand at night. Let them know that this is not a punishment, just a way to help them remember to avoid sucking.● Start a progress chart and let him or her put a sticker up every day that they don't suck their thumb. If they make it through a week without sucking, they get to choose a prize (trip to the zoo, a new set of blocks, etc.) When he or she has filled up a whole month, reward them with something great (a ball glove or a new video game); by then, the habit should be over. Making your child an active participant in his or her treatment will increase their willingness to break the habit.● If you notice your child sucking when he or she is anxious, work on alleviating the anxiety rather than focusing on the thumb-sucking.● Take note of the times your child tends to suck (long car rides or while watching movies) and create diversions during these occasions.● Explain clearly what might happen to his or her teeth if they keep sucking their thumb.
Whatever your method, always remember that your child needs your support and understanding, not threats, during the process of breaking the thumb-sucking habit.