One of the most common misconceptions about oral health is that kids don’t need to see the dentist until their first permanent teeth appear. That is a fallacy that can lead to unnecessary oral health issues. When it comes to your child’s oral health, it’s important to know that oral health begins in infancy. Your pediatric dentist should be involved in the oral health of your child from the time they are infants all the way through the teen years. Here is a parent’s guide to your child’s oral health.
When Should a Child First Visit a Pediatric Dentist?
Surprisingly, tooth decay can occur beneath the gum line, well before any baby teeth appear in your child’s mouth. In order to prevent this and other early-onset oral health issues, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that parents bring their children in to see a pediatric dentist within the first six months after the first tooth erupts, but no later than age one, whether or not teeth are visible. This is only a general guideline. If your infant appears to have excessive oral discomfort or unusual problems teething, a visit to a pediatric dentist is warranted.
Why Baby Teeth Are So Important
Many parents don’t take the oral health of baby teeth seriously. They may figure that those primary teeth are going to fall out anyway, so it doesn’t matter too much if they aren’t in the best condition. This is a serious misconception. Baby teeth are very important to your child’s overall oral health, both now and in the future. Healthy baby teeth help to ensure that your child is able to easily grow into eating and chewing solid foods. Healthy baby teeth and their proper placement in the mouth are integral to your child’s speech development. Baby teeth that are allowed to become cavity-ridden can harbor harmful bacteria that will linger and cause damage to the permanent teeth that have yet to come in.
How to Ensure Great Oral Health From the Start
There are certain steps and precautions that parents can take to ensure great oral health for children from the very beginning; even before the child is able to take care of their own teeth.
First, don’t let your child use the baby bottle as a pacifier. Doing this will expose your child’s teeth to excessive amounts of milk and juice sugars. Another thing to remember is to limit juice. A certain amount of juice is okay, but juice contains a lot of fructose, which is just another form of sugar. Harmful bacteria feed and thrive on sugar, so limiting juice can help protect the child’s teeth. Instead of filling the bottle with apple juice, for example, fill it with water. Finally, clean your infant’s gums after each feeding with a warm damp cloth. This will help to reduce remnants of milk or juice on the gums, keeping them clear of sugar.
Teach Good Oral Hygiene
Once your child is able to hold a toothbrush, they are ready to start learning how to care for their own teeth. During this time, however, parental supervision is needed to ensure that proper oral hygiene is being followed. The easiest way to teach your child about oral hygiene is to set a good example. Let your child watch you as you brush, rinse and floss your own teeth.
Choose an ADA-approved toothpaste for your child to use. Your child should not be using your whitening toothpaste or any toothpaste that’s formulated for adults. Provide a child-sized toothbrush with soft bristles, and be sure to replace it on a monthly basis at a minimum. Another great tip to teach your child oral hygiene is to teach them to sing the alphabet song in their head as they brush. This will give them ample time to complete the brushing process.
Schedule Regular Dental Checkups
Your child should be having regular dental checkups as soon as their first tooth erupts. This will help your child to get accustomed to visiting the dentist so they don’t develop any undue fears about the dentist. This will also help keep your child’s oral health on track for their entire childhood. Regular dental checkups will allow your pediatric dentist to look out for signs like crooked teeth, early gum disease, cavities, wisdom teeth problems and much more. Most pediatric dentists recommend a visit once a month in early childhood since there is so much tooth development during this time of life.
Helping Pre-Teens and Teens With Oral Health
As your child grows, it may become more challenging to make sure they are taking proper care of their teeth and gums. Teenagers are notorious for craving unhealthy snacks, and being lax about brushing and flossing. To help them get through this stage in life without causing harm to their teeth and gums, set a good example. Strive to keep healthy snacks in the house like nuts, seeds, and cheese, which can replace chips and sugary desserts. Offer more exciting oral health tools, such as an electric toothbrush or a water jet device to clean in between teeth. Finally, realize that you still need to schedule those regular dental visits, since your teen will likely not do that on their own.
Another thing to always remember is that fluoridated water is recommended by the ADA. If your home’s water does not contain fluoride, talk to your Elizabeth, NJ dentist about fluoride supplements or another alternative to ensure that your child is getting enough fluoride.
Oral health is critical at all stages of life, but it starts in infancy. If you can take care of your baby’s teeth and gums and instill good oral care habits in your child as they grow, you will be setting your child up for a lifetime of good oral health. For more information about pediatric dentistry in Elizabeth, NJ, or to schedule a visit, please contact us today.