Your Child’s First Visit
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), children should visit the dentist by their first birthday. It is important that your child’s newly-erupted teeth (erupting at 6-12 months of age) receive proper dental care and benefit from proper oral hygiene habits right from the beginning.
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.
Your child’s primary teeth are lost at various times throughout childhood, and their permanent teeth begin erupting at age 6 and continue until age 21. Adults have 28 permanent teeth, or 32 including wisdom teeth.
Preventing Tooth Decay
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 her teeth are a guarantee for early-childhood decay, also called baby-bottle caries.
As new teeth erupt, examine them for lines and discoloration caused by decay. Remember that sugary foods and liquids can attack a new tooth, so take care that your child brushes their teeth after feeding or eating. We recommend brushing three times a day for optimal oral hygiene: after breakfast, after lunch and after dinner. Brushing can be fun, and your child should brush as soon as the first tooth arrives. For children under 3 yrs of age parents should brush the teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a shmear of toothpaste, no larger than a grain of rice. Do NOT use fluoride toothpaste for children younger than two, unless advised to do so by your dentist or other health professional. When children reach the ages of 3 yrs to 6 yrs of age they can use a pea size amount of toothpaste when brushing.
Your child should visit the dentist every 6 months for regular dental cleanings and checkups. We recommend fluoride treatments twice a year along with cleanings to keep teeth their strongest. Tooth sealants are also recommended because they “seal” the deep grooves in your child’s teeth, preventing decay from forming in these hard-to-reach areas. Sealants last for several years, but will be monitored at your regular checkups.
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 she’ll intuit at an early age the importance of your good habits. As soon as she shows interest, give her a toothbrush of her own and encourage her to “brush” with you. (You’ll find toothbrushes with chunky, short handles that are easy for her to grip.) Most children don’t have the dexterity necessary to thoroughly clean their own teeth until they’re about six or seven, so you’ll have to do that part of the job for 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!