Even though baby teeth are not meant to last forever, they serve some very important functions for the time they are around. Healthy baby teeth allow your child to bite and chew food, articulate sounds correctly during speech, and, of course, to smile! They also help guide the permanent teeth, which will one day replace them, into proper alignment. So it’s important to take good care of them while they’re here. Let’s answer some frequently asked questions about pediatric dentistry.
Can I get my teeth cleaned while I’m pregnant?
Yes — and you should! Both the American Dental Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women keep up with their regular schedule of dental cleanings and exams during pregnancy. Not doing so can allow disease-causing oral bacterial to flourish, which can be a health risk for both the expectant mother and her fetus.
Do infants need their teeth brushed?
Yes, it’s important to start a daily oral hygiene routine as soon as the first baby tooth appears — usually sometime between six and nine months of age. Use a very soft-bristled child-sized toothbrush and just a smear of fluoride toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice). When your child turns 3, increase the amount of fluoride toothpaste to the size of a pea.
When should I take my child in for her first dental appointment?
The answer to this one may surprise you: All children should see a dentist by the age of 1. Early dental visits get children accustomed to having their mouths examined and their teeth cleaned. Establishing this healthy habit early will go a long way toward promoting a lifetime of good oral health.
Should I worry that my child sucks his thumb?
That depends on how old he is. Thumb sucking is a normal, comforting habit for babies and toddlers. Most outgrow it by the time they are 4. But kids who don’t are at increased risk for orthodontic issues later on. If your child seems unable to break the habit, let us know; we can give you more detailed recommendations at your next appointment.
What can I do to prevent my children from getting cavities?
Make sure your children have an effective daily oral hygiene routine that includes brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and flossing at least once per day. If they are too young to do a good job by themselves, help them complete these important tasks. Keep their sugar consumption as low as possible; pay particular attention to beverages — soda, sports drinks and even 100 % natural fruit juices can all promote tooth decay. We can offer individualized advice on fighting cavities, and even provide fluoride treatments and dental sealants for extra protection against cavities. So don’t forget to bring your child in to the dental office for regular exams and cleanings!
You may not always be able to tell if your child's bite isn't developing properly. Â That's why you should have them undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 to uncover any emerging problems with tooth misalignment.
Still, there are some visible signs all's not well with their bite. As the primary (baby) teeth give way, the permanent teeth erupt sequentially around ages 6 to 8. As they come in, you should notice that each tooth fits uniformly next to each other without excessive gaps or, on the other end of the spectrum, not crowded together in crooked fashion. Upper teeth should also fit slightly over the lower teeth when the jaws are shut.
If their teeth appearance deviates from these norms, they may have a bite problem. Here are 4 abnormalities you should watch for.
Underbite or deep bite. As we mentioned, the front teeth should cover the lower teeth with the jaws shut. In an underbite, the reverse happens — the lower teeth are in front of the upper teeth. It's also a problem if the upper teeth cover the lower teeth too much (often referred to as “deeply”).
Open bite. This occurs when there's a gap between the upper and lower front teeth while the jaws are shut together. One possible cause is late thumb sucking, which can put undue pressure on the front teeth and cause them to develop too far forward while forcing the bottom front teeth further backwards.
Crossbites. This kind of bite occurs when some of the teeth don't fit properly over their counterparts, while others do. Crossbites can occur anywhere in the mouth, for example the upper front teeth fitting behind the lower front teeth while the back teeth overlap normally, or the reverse (front normal, back abnormal).
Misalignments and Abnormal Eruptions. Sometimes upper teeth may align too far forward, a situation known as protrusion. Conversely, lower teeth (or the jaw itself) may come in too far back (retrusion). Because a primary tooth might be out of position or not lost in the proper sequence, a permanent tooth might noticeably erupt out of its proper position.
If you notice any of these situations with your child's teeth see your dentist or orthodontist soon for a full examination. If caught early, we may be able to take action that will lessen or even eliminate the problem.
To get your child on the right track for lifelong dental health we recommend you begin their dental visits around their first birthday. You can certainly visit your family dentist, especially if you and your family feel comfortable with them. But you also might want to consider a pediatric dentist for your child's dental needs.
What's the difference between a family dentist and a pediatric dentist? Both offer the same kind of prevention and treatment services like cleanings, fluoride applications or fillings. But like their counterparts in medicine — the family practice physician and pediatrician — the family dentist sees patients of all ages; the pediatric dentist specializes in care for children and teens only.
In this regard, pediatric dentists undergo additional training to address dental issues specifically involving children. Furthermore, their practices are geared toward children, from toys and child-sized chairs in the waiting room to “kid-friendly” exam rooms decorated to appeal to children.
While your family dentist could certainly do the same, pediatric dentists are also skilled in reducing the anxiety level that's natural for children visiting the dental office. This can be especially helpful if you have a special needs child with behavioral or developmental disorders like autism or ADHD. A pediatric dentist's soothing manner and the calm, happy environment of the office can go a long way in minimizing any related anxiety issues.
Your child may have other needs related to their oral health that could benefit from a pediatric dentist. Some children have a very aggressive form of dental caries disease (tooth decay) called early childhood caries (ECC).Â If not treated promptly, many of their teeth can become severely decayed and prematurely lost, leading to possible bite problems later in life. Pediatric dentists are well-suited to treat ECC and to recognize other developmental issues.
Again, there's certainly nothing wrong with taking your child to your family dentist, especially if a long-term relationship is important to you (your child will eventually “age out” with a pediatric dentist and no longer see them). It's best to weigh this and other factors such as your child's emotional, physical and dental needs before making a decision.
There's something universal about thumb sucking: nearly all babies do it, and nearly all parents worry about it. While most such worries are unfounded, you should be concerned if your child sucks their thumb past age of 4 — late thumb sucking could skew bite development.
Young children suck their thumb because of the way they swallow. Babies move their tongues forward into the space between the two jaws, allowing them to form a seal around a nipple as they breast or bottle feed. Around age 4, this “infantile swallowing pattern” changes to an adult pattern where the tip of the tongue contacts the front roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. At the same time their future bite is beginning to take shape.
In a normal bite the front teeth slightly overlap the bottom and leave no gap between the jaws when closed. Â But if thumb sucking continues well into school age, the constant pushing of the tongue through the opening in the jaws could alter the front teeth's position as they erupt. As a result they may not fully erupt or erupt too far forward. This could create an open bite, with a gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are closed.
Of course, the best way to avoid this outcome is to encourage your child to stop thumb sucking before they turn four. If, however, they're already developing a poor bite (malocclusion), all is not lost — it can be treated.
It's important, though, not to wait: if you suspect a problem you should see an orthodontist for a full evaluation and accurate diagnosis. There are even some measures that could discourage thumb sucking and lessen the need for braces later. These include a tongue crib, a metal appliance placed behind the upper and lower incisors, or exercises to train the tongue and facial muscles to adopt an adult swallowing pattern. Often, a reward system for not sucking their thumbs helps achieve success as well.
Thumb-sucking shouldn't be a concern if you help your child stop before age 4 and keep an eye on their bite development. Doing those things will help ensure they'll have both healthy and straight teeth.
If you would like more information on thumb sucking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Your baby will grow into an adult so rapidly it will seem like they're changing right before your eyes. And some of the biggest changes will happen with their teeth, gums and jaw structure.
Unfortunately, disease or a traumatic accident could short-circuit this natural process and potentially create future dental problems. Here are 4 things you should be doing now to protect your baby's long-term dental health.
Start oral hygiene now. Even if your baby has no visible teeth, there may still be something else in their mouth—bacteria, which could trigger future tooth decay. To reduce bacteria clean their gums with a clean, wet cloth after each feeding. When teeth begin to appear switch to brushing with just a smear of toothpaste on the brush to minimize what they swallow.
Make your baby's first dental appointment. Beginning dental visits around your baby's first birthday will not only give us a head start on preventing or treating tooth decay, but could also give us a better chance of detecting other developing issues like a poor bite (malocclusion). Early dental visits also help get your child used to them as routine and increase the likelihood they'll continue the habit as adults.
Watch their sugar. Bacteria love sugar. So much so, they'll multiply—and more bacteria mean an increase in one of their by-products, mouth acid. Increased mouth acid can erode tooth enamel and open the way for decay. So, limit sugary snacks to only meal time and don't give them sugary drinks (including juices, breast milk or formula) in a bottle immediately before or while they sleep.
Childproof your home. A number of studies have shown that half of all accidents to teeth in children younger than 7 happen from falling on home furniture. So, take precautions by covering sharp edges or hard surfaces on chairs, tables or sofas, or situate your child's play areas away from furniture. And when they get older and wish to participate in sports activities purchase a custom mouthguard to protect their teeth from hard knocks—an investment well worth the cost.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.