The Dentist Visits You - 2016

Children’s Dental Health Month

By Vatsal Suthar

February is Children's Dental Health month and I wanted to build from the pregnant patient considerations I outlined in the last article. It's never too early to begin taking care of your young one's teeth. The buds for your child's baby teeth have been developing in the womb weeks leading up to delivery. In certain cases, your baby can be born with teeth! No doubt there are many health considerations for a newborn, but proper oral health care should begin well before the first teeth even begin to appear.

In the daily routine of feedings, diaper changes, and minimizing risks on your new bundle of joy, consideration should strongly be given to including good early oral health practices. Babies are born without the bacteria that cause cavities. They only get it from saliva that passed on from their parent or caregiver's mouth. Sharing spoons and testing foods before giving it to the child passes on germs, as does cleaning a pacifier by your mouth instead of rinsing with water. Other activities that can pass saliva are mouth kisses or allowing baby to suck on your finger after it has touched your mouth. In this way, the state of health (or disease) of the parent's mouth is being passed on to your child. Simply, if you have a mouth with gum infections or active decay, your child will get infected with the same germs if you any of the above actions are taken.

Before teeth erupt, use a soft, damp cloth to wipe inside your baby's mouth twice a day. Continue doing this even after the first few teeth begin to appear. After, you should add a baby toothbrush to supplement the daily regimen. A common mistake is for parents to think that a toothbrush is not needed until all the baby teeth have come in to take care of cavities. The earlier a baby is introduced to toothbrush, or similar instrument, the better your chances to avoid their resistance in using one later in childhood. Gently brush these early teeth with a small smear of toothpaste and eventually graduating to a pea size amount when they reach two years of age.

Babies can begin to have teeth come in at around 6 months of age. All 20 of their primary teeth should be out around the time they are three years old. It is imperative to never let your child be put to sleep with a bottle filled with milk, formula, juices, or any other sugary liquid. The sugars in these drinks increase the chances of your baby developing early cavities, or “baby bottle tooth decay." You should strive for the child to finish the bottle before falling asleep. If a bottle is an absolute must at bedtime, fill it with water instead to eliminate a sugar source from bathing the teeth all night. Halfway to their first birthday, it will also be time to require fluoride to take care of the erupting teeth. Most babies get their required intake from water in our homes. Keep in mind that bottled water does not have any fluoride to help keep teeth strong.

One of the most asked questions I get from parents-to-be or new parents is: “When does my baby really need to first see the dentist?" The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) recommends that a child be seen when the first tooth appears or no later than the first birthday. Most general and family dentists can see kids but a child's needs are different than adults. Pediatric dentists are the pediatricians of dentistry. These specialists have two to three years specialty training following dental school and limit their practice to treating children only.

Pediatric dentists are primary and specialty oral care providers for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health needs. They have very specific knowledge and expertise in answering your questions in regards to concerns about your little one's mouth and teeth including thumb sucking, nutrition concerns, and tricks to make tooth brushing at home easier with your child. Furthermore, when children visiting a pediatric dental office see other children there, a kid feels more comfortable. This fun environment increases the chances for a pleasant visit and reduces anxiety for each visit in the long term. In turn, this familiarity will help kids become acclimated to dental appointments in the future.

To build self-confidence, encourage your child to brush his or her teeth on their own when old enough. Always monitor the child's brushing technique thoroughly to ensure a proper practice. The best way to teach a child is to lead by good example. Allowing your child to watch you brush and floss your teeth teaches them the importance of good oral hygiene. Manual or powered, the AAPD recommends that any soft-bristle brush can assist with keeping your child's smile cavity-free. Choose one specifically designed for children's smaller hands and mouths. Look for large handles that can help children control the toothbrush. Also, remember to throw out a toothbrush after 3 months or sooner if the bristles are fraying. The damaged bristles can harm the gums and are not as effective in cleaning teeth. Toothbrushes should also be replaced when your little one gets sick with a cold, cough, or fever.

In regards to dental emergencies, the most common is untreated cavities on teeth that become painful due to infection. Preventing this catastrophic moment for your baby is easy with regular check ups with a general or pediatric dentist. Based on the age and amount of teeth, your doctor will give advice on when to begin taking x-rays on the child. With protection from lead aprons, digital technology and newer equipment, the amount of radiation exposure is very minimal during this exam. Another reason for dental emergencies in children is accidentally injuring the mouth playing or during daily activities. Calling your provider as soon as possible can ensure a proper assessment and treatment.

There are many health considerations in the first few months and years in a baby's life. Among them is taking care of their oral health, as a child's dental health history is a strong predictor of their adult condition. The parents or caregivers are crucial in establishing good habits from the very start at birth. Next month, more dental insight will be provided as the child transitions into adolescence.