Dental problems, particularly tooth decay, can begin early. So dental examinations are the first step toward good preventive dental care. According to advice offered by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), a parent should schedule a child’s initial dental visit once the first tooth comes in, but no later than the first birthday. Routine dental checkups should continue every six months after that. Pediatric dentists point out that once children get that first tooth, they are at risk for tooth decay if their diets include anything other than mom’s breast milk.
Pediatric dentists receive two or three years of additional education after completing dental school so that they are qualified to treat children’s dental problems. Different from general dentistry, training focuses on child growth and development, child psychology and pediatric health issues, so that the dental experience is less frightening for a child. Pediatric dentists have both the experience and facilities to treat children as young as six months old. Member doctors of the AAPD practice a mission that is directed on providing quality dental care to children, and educating parents and the general public about the importance of preventive dental care for children of all ages.
A baby’s first tooth usually comes in between the age of 6 and 12 months. The age that children get their first tooth varies, but family history tends to be the best predictor. The first teeth to come are generally the two lower primary incisors, followed by the two upper front teeth. Even as more teeth begin to come in, the lower teeth normally appear months earlier than the upper teeth. Signs that your baby is teething include drooling, tender gums or irritability when feeding. If a baby shows no indication of teeth by one year of age, you should take your child to see a dentist.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), healthy primary teeth help provide the foundation for strong, healthy permanent teeth. Baby teeth help a child to chew food properly, which contributes to good nutrition. They also play a role in speech development, helping a child to pronounce words correctly. And let’s not forget that baby teeth save room in the jawbone until a child’s permanent teeth come in. Most children have a full set of primary teeth by age three.
While some parents may think that baby teeth are not nearly as important as a child’s permanent teeth, this assumption could not be farther from the truth. Just because primary teeth fall out within a few years of coming in does not mean that they do not serve an essential purpose. These first baby teeth act as guides so that permanent teeth come in at their right positions. Unfortunately, neglected primary teeth can cause serious complications for permanent teeth later on. If a child has to have a primary molar pulled as the result of severe tooth decay, crowding could occur causing the permanent tooth underneath to come in crooked.
Proper oral hygiene and early visits to the dentist can help to prevent tooth decay. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers continue to breast feed or bottle feed infants until they are 12 months old, once the first tooth appears or other foods are being introduced into the baby’s diet, parents need to be concerned about tooth decay. To prevent tooth decay caused by baby bottles, wean your baby from bottle between 12 and 14 months old. In the meantime, do not let your child to fall asleep with a bottle unless it contains water. Formula, milk or fruit juices in the bottle can cause the upper front teeth to decay. Previous studies conducted by member doctors of the AAPD show that decayed primary teeth can cause damage to the developing permanent teeth underneath.
The sooner you start cleaning your baby’s teeth the better. Beginning at birth, clean your baby’s gums after every feeding using a soft cloth or clean gauzed pad and water. Once that first tooth comes in, you can start using a toothbrush, brushing your child’s teeth twice each day. Brush teeth gently using only water. Do not use toothpaste until after your child is age two.