Many parents often wonder if and when their baby or toddler needs to be seen by a dentist. According the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD), children should be seen by a dentist when their first tooth erupts or by their first birthday. This visit is important because untimely eruption of primary (baby) teeth can be an indication of potential problems, such as disorders or syndromes. Additionally, in individuals who will be prone to decay throughout their life due to a genetic predisposition to tooth decay, primary teeth can decay very quickly and can sometimes even erupt into the mouth already decayed.
As soon as the first tooth erupts into a baby’s mouth, parents should clean the tooth with a wet rag. This practice is especially important following all feedings, whether from breast or bottle. When several teeth have erupted into baby’s mouth, purchase a baby tooth brush to clean those teeth from your local pharmacy. You can apply just a speck (about the size of a rice grain) of fluoride toothpaste to the brush at this time. When the child turns 3, the amount of fluoride toothpaste can be enlarged to about the size of a pea. Parents need to brush their children’s teeth for them in the morning and before bed time up until such time as the child has developed the dexterity to brush effectively on their own, usually by age 6.
The most crucial time of the day to protect against cavities is at night during sleep. When we sleep our body produces less saliva in order to preserve the body’s water levels during rest. Our teeth then miss out on the beneficial antimicrobial properties our body’s saliva contains. It is very important to brush your children’s teeth immediately before bed and make sure they avoid any bedtime snacks. To this end, there should be no bottle or breast feeding after the teeth are brushed before bedtime. Although in the best case scenario no bottles should be left in the crib at bedtime, if habit requires a bottle make sure it is water only. Bottle feeding in the crib has been linked to the serious disease of the primary teeth, baby bottle tooth decay.
Dental visits and cleanings every six months are essential for growing children. Tooth decay in between teeth absolutely cannot be found without dental X-rays, so unless your child visits the dentist regularly your child’s cavities will progress until it is too late. Check-ups are also critical because orthodontists these days prefer to treat orthodontic issues earlier rather than later, and these decisions can mean the difference between needing to have teeth pulled and not needing to have teeth pulled when the child gets braces. Functional appliances can skeletally change the development of the growing mouth when used at a young age while the skull is more cartilaginous.
Finally, regular dental visits as a toddler help the child grow accustom to visiting the dentist. Unfortunately, children whose first visit to the dentist only occurs when there is a painful problem, typically have a terrible dental visit because there is pain involved, and have a high risk of developing lifelong dental phobias. Most children can be seen by your general dentist, but for those children who are a bit too apprehensive, pediatric dentists are a great resource to have.