Importance of Primary Teeth
It's important to take care of primary teeth until they are naturally lost and put under the pillow for the tooth fairy. Although you can't see them at birth, there are 20 primary teeth under an infant's gums. As the child gets older, these primary teeth make way for 32 permanent teeth. "Early loss of primary teeth can lead to future space crowding problems as the permanent teeth erupt," says Jed Jacobson, DDS, MS, MPH Senior Vice President, Professional Services, and Chief Science Officer for Delta Dental. "In addition, early loss of primary teeth may cause some psychosocial issues for the child due to speech or appearance problems."
Preparing for the First Tooth
Even before the first little tooth comes in, it's important to pay attention to your baby's mouth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) suggests that you gently brush Baby's gums after each feeding. You can use water on a soft-bristled baby toothbrush or wipe them with a clean washcloth. This puts good dental health habits in practice from the very start.
Caring for First Teeth
A baby will usually start to get her first teeth at about 6 months. When the first few teeth appear in your baby's smile, it's important to clean them after each feeding. You can wipe the teeth with a piece of gauze, damp cloth, or baby toothbrush. Continue cleaning the gums, too. Use a small dab of fluoridated toothpaste until Baby is old enough to spit on her own, usually around age 2 or 3. When Baby grows two teeth that touch, it's time to get out the floss to prevent cavities.
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Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
The most common cause of tooth decay is by putting your child to bed with a bottle. It's not the baby bottle that's the problem. It's the formula, milk, or juice that's in it. When these liquids are on Baby's gums and teeth during sleep, it can cause tooth decay. That bottle could also put your baby at risk for an ear infection and choking, so it's a good idea to keep it out of the crib. If you are going to give him a bottle, make sure it's filled with plain water.
Baby Bottle Nipples
Ask your dentist about which kind of nipple he or she recommends for the bottle. "The type of nipple can have a definite effect on the growth of the jaws and development of muscles and swallowing patterns," says Dr. Jacobson. "Some nipples are better than others for not promoting certain orthodontic conditions."
Tips to Prevent Tooth Decay
- Use a pacifier between meals or at night for comfort. This is a good substitute for using a bottle or sippy cup for long periods of time.
- Avoid sugary drinks, or limit them to mealtimes. Keeping a healthy diet will help prevent cavities. Limit juice and other beverages to mealtimes instead of allowing babies to carry bottles around between meals.
- Transition to a drinking cup. Teach your child how to use a cup as soon as she is able. Drinking from a cup is less likely to cause liquid to collect around teeth.
Fluoride is the active ingredient in toothpaste. It makes tooth enamel strong and helps fix early damage to teeth. But your child should be getting it before you even squeeze anything on a toothbrush. Drinking tap water is a great way to get fluoride. This will rinse her mouth after meals and snacks and provide a dose of fluoride. Ask you doctor about how much fluoride your child needs and whether she is getting enough.
Calcium is another important ingredient for a healthy mouth. Baby teeth need calcium even before they grow in and develop. Calcium isn't just essential for baby teeth; it will also make gums and jawbones healthy.
Baby teeth should be an ivory or off-white color. But if you notice that your child's teeth start to look discolored, the dentists at Mayo Clinic say it could be the result of any number of things.
The Main Culprits:
- Inadequate Brushing: If teeth aren't brushed enough in the correct way, bacteria can form and result in discoloration.
- Medication: Certain medicines with iron can cause stains and discoloration of baby teeth.
- Injury: If there's been a tooth or gum injury to baby teeth, they might take on a pink or gray tint.
More Reasons for Tooth Discoloration
- Too Much Fluoride: Too much fluoride might cause fluorosis, bright white spots or streaks.
- Newborn Jaundice: This can give teeth a green tint.
- Weak Enamel: This is a genetic issue with the way enamel forms and can lead to discolored teeth.
- Serious Illness: An infection during infancy, newborn hepatitis, and types of heart disease can cause discolored teeth.
When to Visit the Dentist
In Delta Dental's 2009 survey, the company discovered that most children don't visit the dentist until they are well over 2 years old. The recommended time is much sooner. According to the AAPD, a trip to the dentist should be at 12 months -- or 6 months after the baby's first tooth erupts. It's important to make that first trek to the dentist at age 1, even though it might seem like your child is doesn't have enough teeth for an appointment.
Why You Shouldn't Wait
Many parents wait until there's a problem with their child's teeth to visit the dentist. But waiting until an emergency situation isn't ideal. Dr. Jacobson points out that it is best for you, the dentist, and your baby to establish a dental home before you might need one.
- You will already have records at the office. This helps the dentist see your child as quickly as possible without any fuss.
- Your baby will be more comfortable. If you wait to bring Baby into the office in a traumatic time, the experience won't go as smoothly as it would if he had already had a welcoming experience at the office.
What to Expect at the First Dentist Appointment
According to Dr. Jacobson, the appointment should last 15-30 minutes and might include X-rays and a gentle, comprehensive examination of the teeth, gums, jaws, bite, and oral tissues. The purpose of the first visit is to find any problems and to establish a baseline so the dentist can monitor the child's growth and development. Depending on Baby's cooperation, the dentist might also clean and polish his teeth and apply a topical fluoride.
"The most important goals of this first visit are to introduce your child to the office surroundings and to develop a trust in the dentist and staff. The dentist views this visit as an icebreaker," Dr. Jacobson says.
Tips for Making It a Good Experience
Make this first trip to the dentist a positive experience. If your child is too frightened, the dentist's staff can reschedule several short visits. Make sure to bring medical records to the first appointment to get things started. Dr. Jed Jacobson recommends trying to make the appointment seem like a fun, new experience. "Do not try to explain the first visit yourself. Avoid phrases like 'Be brave!' and 'Don't be afraid.' Don't bribe the child with special treats to get him or her to the office," Dr. Jacobson says. "Be positive and reassuring that the visit will be fun. Present it as something to which the child can look forward."
Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.