The first dental appointment for children should be after the child turns 6 months of age and before their first birthday. The reason for such an early appointment is because the primary (first) teeth should have started to erupt and this is the time to detect anything of concern. Some of the issues that could cause problems are thumb sucking and baby bottle tooth decay.
Children find comfort from sucking a thumb, finger or a pacifier. This is normal. However, if the infant or child is doing this often, it can cause malformed teeth and an irregular bite pattern.
Thumb sucking engages powerful muscles that can alter the shape of the palate. This, in turn, can effect the position of the teeth and lips. If the child continues to suck their thumb or fingers after the four anterior teeth have erupted, conditions can worsen and it may require surgery to be corrected.
It is recommended that if by 4 years of age a child is still sucking their thumb or fingers you should seek the advise of your dental professional.
Baby bottle tooth decay
Baby bottle decay is caused by sugars found in breast milk, formula and in juices. Natural sugars found in milk and 100% fruit juice will have the same effect as refined sugar on the teeth. When an infant drinks from their bottle, the bacteria in their mouth will mix with the sugars from the drink. This mixture creates a mild acid that will attack the enamel of their teeth and form cavities. We can control this damage by managing how much sugar is given to the infant and controlling how long it stays there. Children that go to bed with a bottle of milk or juice are at an increased risk of decay. The sugars will pool in their saliva and have all night to work on destroying the outer layer (enamel) of the teeth. It is also risky to give a child juice between meals as this is just a continuos coating of sugar on the teeth throughout the day. In order to avoid baby bottle tooth decay, do not allow a baby to nurse on a bottle of milk or juice before going to sleep. Water is also the best choice to give between meals. Do not dip pacifiers into sweet substances and, as early as possible, teach your child to drink from a cup. Baby bottle tooth decay can interfere with the proper formation of the permanent teeth if it is left untreated.
Babies can begin teething as early as three to four months of age. This is a period where the teeth begin to sequentially erupt. The pain that children feel varies. Some babies can become irritable while others donʼt seem to be bothered at all. Symptoms of teething are swollen gums, drooling, crankiness, difficulty sleeping, and loss of appetite. You can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of teething by gently massaging your childʼs gums with a clean finger, a small cool spoon or a wet gauze pad. A teething ring may also help. The ADA (American Dental Association) and CDA (Canadian Dental Association) also report that if your child shows rashes, diarrhea and/or fever call your physician. These are NOT normal symptoms of teething.
Primary and Permanent Teeth
Most children at three years of age have 20 ʻprimaryʼ teeth. These teeth eventually get replaced by permanent teeth by the time the child turns 12 years of age. Somewhere between the age of 17-31, the 4 permanent molars, also known as wisdom teeth, may emerge.
It is very important that a childʼs primary teeth are kept healthy because they will determine the placement for the permanent teeth. If the primary teeth become diseased or do not properly erupt it can alter the growth pattern for the permanent teeth, leading to over crowding.
Cleaning your baby’s mouth before teeth erupt
It is important to start cleaning a childʼs mouth before they even have any teeth. This is essential for two reasons. It develops a habit of keeping the mouth clean. Provides a clean and healthy environment for the primary teeth to erupt. The idea is to wipe all the gums. Firstly, with the baby in a comfortable lying position, make sure you can see clearly into the babies mouth. With a clean damp washcloth over your finger, wipe the babies gums. You can also buy special infant toothbrushes that fit right over your finger. Do not use toothpaste as the baby may swallow it. Once the teeth have grown through the gums you can clean the teeth with a child size, soft bristled toothbrush and a pea size amount of toothpaste. It is important to teach the child to spit out the paste when finished. It is recommended to avoid toothpastes containing fluoride on children under the age of two.
Proper technique for brushing your childʼs primary teeth
Use a soft bristled toothbrush with rounded edges. Make sure the toothbrush allows you to reach all the way to the back of the mouth. Hold your toothbrush at a 45 degree angle to your teeth. The bristles of the brush should be directed towards the gum line. Brush all three surfaces of the teeth, the chewing surface, the cheek side, and the tongue side. Brushing your teeth should take a minimum of 2 minutes to complete. Most people will miss the same spots repeatedly. To avoid this, change up your usual brushing pattern. The Canadian Dental Association and the American Dental Association recommend that you replace your toothbrush every three months.