Pediatric dentistry (formerly Pedodontics/Paedodontics) primarily focuses on children from birth through adolescence. The American Dental Association (ADA), recognizes pediatric dentistry as a specialty, and therefore requires dentists to undertake two or three years of additional training after completing a general dentistry degree. At the end of this training, the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry issues a unique diploma (Diplomate ABPD). Some pediatric dentists (pedodontists) opt to specialize in oral care for children with special needs, specifically children with autism, varying levels of mental retardation, or cerebral palsy.
One of the most important components of pediatric dentistry is child psychology. Pediatric dentists are trained to create a friendly, fun, social atmosphere for visiting children, and always avoid threatening words like “drill,” “needle,” and “injection.” Dental phobias beginning in childhood often continue into adulthood, so it is of paramount importance that children have positive experiences and find their “dental home” as early as possible.
What Does a Pediatric Dentist Do?
Pediatric dentists fulfill many important functions pertaining to the child’s overall oral health and hygiene. They place particular emphasis on the proper maintenance and care of deciduous (baby) teeth, which are instrumental in facilitating good chewing habits, proper speech production, and also hold space for permanent teeth.
Other important functions include:
Education – Pediatric dentists educate the child using models, computer technology, and child-friendly terminology, thus emphasizing the importance of keeping teeth strong and healthy. In addition, they advise parents on disease prevention, trauma prevention, good eating habits, and other aspects of the home hygiene routine.
Monitoring growth – By continuously tracking growth and development, pediatric dentists are able to anticipate dental issues and quickly intervene before they worsen. Also, working towards earlier corrective treatment preserves the child’s self-esteem and fosters a more positive self-image.
Prevention – Helping parents and children establish sound eating and oral care habits reduces the chances of later tooth decay. In addition to providing check ups and dental cleanings, pediatric dentists are also able to apply dental sealants and topical fluoride to young teeth, advise parents on thumb- sucking/pacifier/smoking cessation, and provide good demonstrations of brushing and flossing.
Intervention – In some cases, pediatric dentists may discuss the possibility of early oral treatments with parents. In the case of oral injury, malocclusion (bad bite), or bruxism (grinding), space maintainers may be fitted, a nighttime mouth guard may be recommended, or reconstructive surgery may be scheduled.
If you have questions or concerns about pediatric dentistry, please contact our office.
Care for Your Child’s Teeth
Pediatric oral care has two main components: preventative care at the pediatric dentist’s office and preventative care at home. Though infant and toddler caries (cavities) and tooth decay have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, a good dental strategy will eradicate the risk of both.
The goal of preventative oral care is to evaluate and preserve the health of the child’s teeth. Beginning at the age of twelve months, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that children begin to visit the pediatric dentist for “well baby” checkups. In general, most children should continue to visit the dentist every six months, unless instructed otherwise.
How can a pediatric dentist care for my child’s teeth?
The pediatric dentist examines the teeth for signs of early decay, monitors orthodontic concerns, tracks jaw and tooth development, and provides a good resource for parents. In addition, the pediatric dentist has several tools at hand to further reduce the child’s risk for dental problems, such as topical fluoride and dental sealants.
During a routine visit to the dentist: the child’s mouth will be fully examined; the teeth will be professionally cleaned; topical fluoride might be coated onto the teeth to protect tooth enamel, and any parental concerns can be addressed. The pediatric dentist can demonstrate good brushing and flossing techniques, advise parents on dietary issues, provide strategies for thumb sucking and pacifier cessation, and communicate with the child on his or her level.
When molars emerge (usually between the ages of two and three), the pediatric dentist may coat them with dental sealant. This sealant covers the hard-to-reach fissures on the molars, sealing out bacteria, food particles, and acid. Dental sealant may last for many months or many years, depending on the oral habits of the child. Dental sealant is an important tool in the fight against tooth decay.
How can I help at home?
Though most parents primarily think of brushing and flossing when they hear the words “oral care,” good preventative care includes many more factors, such as:
- Diet – Parents should provide children with a nourishing, well-balanced diet. Very sugary diets should be modified and continuous snacking should be discouraged. Oral bacteria ingest leftover sugar particles in the child’s mouth after each helping of food, emitting harmful acids that erode tooth enamel, gum tissue, and bone. Space out snacks when possible, and provide the child with non-sugary alternatives like celery sticks, carrot sticks, and low-fat yogurt.
- Oral habits – Though pacifier use and thumb sucking generally cease over time, both can cause the teeth to misalign. If the child must use a pacifier, choose an “orthodontically” correct model. This will minimize the risk of developmental problems like narrow roof arches and crowding. The pediatric dentist can suggest a strategy (or provide a dental appliance) for thumb sucking cessation.
- General oral hygiene – Sometimes, parents clean pacifiers and teething toys by sucking on them. Parents may also share eating utensils with the child. By performing these acts, parents transfer harmful oral bacteria to their child, increasing the risk of early cavities and tooth decay. Instead, rinse toys and pacifiers with warm water, and avoid spoon-sharing whenever possible.
- Sippy cup use – Sippy cups are an excellent transitional aid when transferring from a baby bottle to an adult drinking glass. However, sippy cups filled with milk, breast milk, soda, juice, and sweetened water cause small amounts of sugary fluid to continually swill around young teeth – meaning acid continually attacks tooth enamel. Sippy cup use should be terminated between the ages of twelve and fourteen months or as soon as the child has the motor skills to hold a drinking glass.
- Brushing – Children’s teeth should be brushed a minimum of two times per day using a soft bristled brush and a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Parents should help with the brushing process until the child reaches the age of seven and is capable of reaching all areas of the mouth. Parents should always opt for ADA approved toothpaste (non-fluoridated before the age of two, and fluoridated thereafter). For babies, parents should rub the gum area with a clean cloth after each feeding.
- Flossing – Cavities and tooth decay form more easily between teeth. Therefore, the child is at risk for between-teeth cavities wherever two teeth grow adjacent to each other. The pediatric dentist can help demonstrate correct head positioning during the flossing process and suggest tips for making flossing more fun!
- Fluoride – Fluoride helps prevent mineral loss and simultaneously promotes the remineralization of tooth enamel. Too much fluoride can result in fluorosis, a condition where white specks appear on the permanent teeth, and too little can result in tooth decay. It is important to get the fluoride balance correct. The pediatric dentist can evaluate how much the child is currently receiving and prescribe supplements if necessary.
If you have questions or concerns about how to care for your child’s teeth, please ask your pediatric dentist.
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Dental Radiographs (X-Rays)
Dental radiographs, also known as dental X-rays, are important diagnostic tools in pediatric dentistry. Dental radiographs allow the dentist to see and treat problems like childhood cavities, tooth decay, orthodontic misalignment, bone injuries, and bone diseases before they worsen. These issues would be difficult (in some cases impossible) to see with the naked eye during a clinical examination.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) approves the use of dental radiographs for diagnostic purposes in children and teenagers. Although radiographs only emit tiny amounts of radiation and are safe to use on an occasional basis, the AAPD guidelines aim to protect young people from unnecessary X-ray exposure.
What are dental X-rays used for?
Dental x-rays are extremely versatile diagnostic tools. Some of their main uses in pediatric dentistry include:
- Assessing the amount of space available for incoming teeth.
- Checking whether primary teeth are being shed in good time for adult teeth to emerge.
- Evaluating the progression of bone disease.
- Monitoring and diagnosing tooth decay.
- Planning treatment (especially orthodontic treatment).
- Revealing bone injuries, abscesses, and tumors.
- Revealing impacted wisdom teeth.
- When will my child need dental X-rays?
Individual circumstances dictate how often a child needs to have dental radiographs taken. Children at higher-than-average risk of childhood tooth decay (as determined by the pediatric dentist) may need biannual radiographs to monitor changes in the condition of the teeth. Likewise, children who are at high risk for orthodontic problems, for example, malocclusion, may also need sets of radiographs taken more frequently for monitoring purposes.
Children at average or below average risk for tooth decay and orthodontic problems should have a set of dental X-rays taken every one to two years. Even in cases where the pediatric dentist suspects no decay at all, it is still important to periodically monitor tooth and jaw growth – primarily to ensure there is sufficient space available for incoming permanent teeth.
If the oral region has been subject to trauma or injury, the pediatric dentist may want to X-ray the mouth immediately. Developments in X-ray technology mean that specific areas of the mouth can be targeted and X-rayed separately, reducing the amount of unnecessary X-ray exposure.
What precautions will be taken to ensure my child’s safety?
Though dental radiographs are perfectly safe for use on children, the pediatric dentist will take several precautions to ensure the X-ray process does not unduly damage the child’s cells and bodily tissues.
First, the child will be covered in a lead apron to protect the body from unnecessary exposure. Second, the dentist will use shields to protect the parts of the face that are not being X-rayed. Finally, the pediatric dentist will use high-speed film to reduce radiation exposure as much as possible.
If you have questions or concerns about dental radiographs or X-rays, please contact your pediatric dentist.
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According to AAPD (American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry) guidelines, infants should initially visit the pediatric dentist around the time of their first birthday. First visits can be stressful for parents, especially for parents who have dental phobias themselves.
It is imperative for parents to continually communicate positive messages about dental visits (especially the first one), and to help the child feel as happy as possible about visiting the dentist.
How can I prepare for my child’s first dental visit?
Pediatric dentists are required to undergo extensive training in child psychology. Their dental offices are generally colorful, child-friendly, and boast a selection of games, toys, and educational tools. Pediatric dentists (and all dental staff) aim to make the child feel as welcome as possible during all visits.
There are several things parents can do to make the first visit enjoyable. Some helpful tips are listed below:
- Take another adult along for the visit – Sometimes infants become fussy when having their mouths examined. Having another adult along to soothe the infant allows the parent to ask questions and to attend to any advice the dentist may have.
- Leave other children at home – Other children can distract the parent and cause the infant to fuss. Leaving other children at home (when possible) makes the first visit less stressful for all concerned.
- Avoid threatening language – Pediatric dentists and staff are trained to avoid the use of threatening language like “drills,” “needles,” “injections,” and “bleeding.” It is imperative for parents to use positive language when speaking about dental treatment with their child.
- Provide positive explanations – It is important to explain the purposes of the dental visit in a positive way. Explaining that the dentist “helps keep teeth healthy” is far better than explaining that the dentist “is checking for tooth decay and might have to drill the tooth if decay is found.”
- Explain what will happen – Anxiety can be vastly reduced if the child knows what to expect. Age-appropriate books about visiting the dentist can be very helpful in making the visit seem fun.
Here is a list of parent and dentist-approved books:
- The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist – by Stan and Jan Berenstain.
- Show Me Your Smile: A Visit to the Dentist – Part of the “Dora the Explorer” Series.
- Going to the Dentist – by Anne Civardi.
- Elmo Visits the Dentist – Part of the “Sesame Street” Series.
What will happen during the first visit?
There are several goals for the first dental visit. First, the pediatric dentist and the child need to get properly acquainted. Second, the dentist needs to monitor tooth and jaw development to get an idea of the child’s overall health history. Third, the dentist needs to evaluate the health of the existing teeth and gums. Finally, the dentist aims to answer questions and advise parents on how to implement a good oral care regimen.
The following sequence of events is typical of an initial “well baby checkup”:
- Dental staff will greet the child and parents.
- The infant/family health history will be reviewed (this may include questionnaires).
- The pediatric dentist will address parental questions and concerns.
- More questions will be asked, generally pertaining to the child’s oral habits, pacifier use, general development, tooth alignment, tooth development, and diet.
- The dentist will provide advice on good oral care, how to prevent oral injury, fluoride intake, and sippy cup use.
- The infant’s teeth will be examined. Generally, the dentist and parent sit facing each other. The infant is positioned so that his or her head is cradled in the
- dentist’s lap. This position allows the infant to look at the parent during the examination.
- Good brushing and flossing demonstrations will be provided.
- The state of the child’s oral health will be described in detail, and specific recommendations will be made. Recommendations usually relate to oral habits,
- appropriate toothpastes and toothbrushes for the child, orthodontically correct pacifiers, and diet.
- The dentist will detail which teeth may appear in the following months.
- The dentist will outline an appointment schedule and describe what will happen during the next appointment.
- If you have questions or concerns about your child’s first dental visit, please contact our office.
Fluorine, a natural element in the fluoride compound, has proven to be effective in minimizing childhood cavities and tooth decay. Fluoride is a key ingredient in many popular brands of toothpaste, oral gel, and mouthwash, and can also be found in most community water supplies. Though fluoride is an important part of any good oral care routine, overconsumption can result in a condition known as fluorosis. The pediatric dentist is able to monitor fluoride levels, and check that children are receiving the appropriate amount.
How can fluoride prevent tooth decay?
Fluoride fulfills two important dental functions. First, it helps staunch mineral loss from tooth enamel, and second, it promotes the remineralization of tooth enamel.
When carbohydrates (sugars) are consumed, oral bacteria feed on them and produce harmful acids. These acids attack tooth enamel – especially in children who take medications or produce less saliva. Repeated acid attacks result in cavities, tooth decay, and childhood periodontal disease. Fluoride protects tooth enamel from acid attacks and reduces the risk of childhood tooth decay.
Fluoride is especially effective when used as part of a good oral hygiene regimen. Reducing the consumption of sugary foods, brushing and flossing regularly, and visiting the pediatric dentist biannually, all supplement the work of fluoride and keep young teeth healthy.
How much fluoride is enough?
Since community water supplies and toothpastes usually contain fluoride, it is essential that children do not ingest too much. For this reason, children under the age of two should use an ADA-approved, non-fluoridated brand of toothpaste. Children between the ages of two and five years old should use a pea-sized amount of ADA-approved fluoridated toothpaste, on a clean toothbrush, twice each day. They should be encouraged to spit out any extra fluid after brushing. This part might take time, encouragement, and practice.
The amount of fluoride children ingest between the ages of one and four years old determines whether or not fluorosis occurs later. The most common symptom of fluorosis is white specks on the permanent teeth. Children over the age of eight years old are not considered to be at-risk for fluorosis, but should still use an ADA-approved brand of toothpaste.
Does my child need fluoride supplements?
The pediatric dentist is the best person to decide whether a child needs fluoride supplements. First, the dentist will ask questions in order to determine how much fluoride the child is currently receiving, gain a general health history, and evaluate the sugar content in the child’s diet. If a child is not receiving enough fluoride and is determined to be at high-risk for tooth decay, an at-home fluoride supplement might be recommended.
Topical fluoride can also be applied to the tooth enamel quickly and painlessly during a regular office visit. There are many convenient forms of topical fluoride, including foam, liquids, varnishes, and gels. Depending on the age of the child and their willingness to cooperate, topical fluoride can either be held on the teeth for several minutes in specialized trays or painted on with a brush.
If you have questions or concerns about fluoride or fluorosis, please contact our office.
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A child’s general level of health often dictates his or her oral health, and vice versa. Therefore, supplying children with a well-balanced diet is more likely to produce healthier teeth and gums. A good diet provides the child with the many different nutrients he or she needs to grow. These nutrients are necessary for gum tissue development, strong bones, and protection against certain illnesses.
According to the food pyramid, children need vegetables, fruits, meat, grains, beans, and dairy products to grow properly. These different food groups should be eaten in balance for optimal results.
How does my child’s diet affect his or her teeth?
Almost every snack contains at least one type of sugar. Most often, parents are tempted to throw away candy and chocolate snacks – without realizing that many fruit snacks contain one (if not several) types of sugar or carbohydrate. When sugar-rich snacks are eaten, the sugar content attracts oral bacteria. The bacteria feast on food remnants left on or around the teeth. Eventually, feasting bacteria produce enamel-attacking acids.
When tooth enamel is constantly exposed to acid, it begins to erode – the result is childhood tooth decay. If tooth decay is left untreated for prolonged periods, acids begin to attack the soft tissue (gums) and even the underlying jawbone. Eventually, the teeth become prematurely loose or fall out, causing problems for emerging adult teeth – a condition known as childhood periodontal disease.
Regular checkups and cleanings at the pediatric dentist’s office are an important line of defense against tooth decay. However, implementing good dietary habits and minimizing sugary food and drink intake as part of the “home care routine” are equally important.
How can I alter my child’s diet?
The pediatric dentist is able to offer advice and dietary counseling for children and parents. Most often, parents are advised to opt for healthier snacks, for example, carrot sticks, reduced fat yoghurt, and cottage cheese. In addition, pediatric dentists may recommend a fluoride supplement to protect tooth enamel – especially if the child lives in an area where fluoride is not routinely added to community water.
Parents should also ensure that children are not continuously snacking – even in a healthy manner. Lots of snacking means that sugars are constantly attaching themselves to teeth, and tooth enamel is constantly under attack. It is also impractical to try to clean the teeth after every snack, if “every snack” means every ten minutes!
Finally, parents are advised to opt for faster snacks. Mints and hard candies remain in the mouth for a long period of time – meaning that sugar is coating the teeth for longer. If candy is necessary, opt for a sugar-free variety or a variety that can be eaten expediently.
Should my child eat starch-rich foods?
It is important for the child to eat a balanced diet, so some carbohydrates and starches are necessary. Starch-rich foods generally include pretzels, chips, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Since starches and carbohydrates break down to form sugar, it is best that they are eaten as part of a meal (when saliva production is higher), than as a standalone snack. Provide plenty of water at mealtimes (rather than soda) to help the child rinse sugary food particles off the teeth.
As a final dietary note, avoid feeding your child sticky foods if possible. It is incredibly difficult to remove stickiness from the teeth – especially in younger children who tend not to be as patient during brushing.
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s general or oral health, please contact our office.
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How Often Should Children Have Dental Checkups?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) advises parents to make biannual dental appointments for children, beginning approximately six months after the first tooth emerges.
These two important yearly visits allow the pediatric dentist to monitor new developments in the child’s mouth, evaluate changes in the condition of teeth and gums, and continue to advise parents on good oral care strategies.
The pediatric dentist may schedule additional visits for children who are particularly susceptible to tooth decay or who show early signs of orthodontic problems.
What is the purpose of dental checkups?
First, the pediatric dentist aims to provide a “good dental home” for the child. If a dental emergency does arise, parents can take the child for treatment at a familiar, comfortable location.
Second, the pediatric dentist keeps meticulous records of the child’s ongoing dental health and jaw development. In general, painful dental conditions do not arise overnight. If the pediatric dentist understands the child’s dental health history, it becomes easier to anticipate future issues and intervene before they arise.
Third, the pediatric dentist is able to educate parents and children during the visit. Sometimes the pediatric dentist wants to introduce one or several factors to enhance tooth health – for example, sealants, fluoride supplements, or xylitol. Other times, the pediatric dentist asks parents to change the child’s dietary or oral behavior – for example, reducing sugar in the child’s diet, removing an intraoral piercing, or even transitioning the child from sippy cups to adult-sized drinking glasses.
Finally, dental X-rays are often the only way to identify tiny cavities in primary (baby) teeth. Though the child may not be feeling any pain, left unchecked, these tiny cavities can rapidly turn into large cavities, tooth decay, and eventually, childhood periodontal disease. Dental X-rays are only used when the pediatric dentist suspects cavities or orthodontic irregularities.
Are checkups necessary if my child has healthy teeth?
The condition of a child’s teeth can change fairly rapidly. Even if the child’s teeth were evaluated as healthy just six months prior, changes in diet or oral habits (for example, thumb sucking) can quickly render them vulnerable to decay or misalignment.
In addition to visual examinations, the pediatric dentist provides thorough dental cleanings during each visit. These cleanings eradicate the plaque and debris that can build up between teeth and in other hard to reach places. Though a good homecare routine is especially important, these professional cleanings provide an additional tool to keep smiles healthy.
The pediatric dentist is also able to monitor the child’s fluoride levels during routine visits. Oftentimes, a topical fluoride gel or varnish is applied to teeth after the cleaning. Topical fluoride remineralizes the teeth and staunches mineral loss, protecting tooth enamel from oral acid attacks. Some children are also given take-home fluoride supplements (especially those residing in areas where fluoride is not routinely added to the community water supply).
Finally, the pediatric dentist may apply dental sealants to the child’s back teeth (molars). This impenetrable liquid plastic substance is brushed onto the molars to seal out harmful debris, bacteria, and acid.
If you have questions or concerns about when to schedule your child’s dental checkups please contact your pediatric dentist.
What’s the Best Toothpaste for My Child?
Evaluating the many brands of oral products claiming to be “best for children” can be an overwhelming task. Selecting an appropriately sized toothbrush and a nourishing, cleansing brand of children’s toothpaste is of paramount importance for maintaining excellent oral health.
Why brush primary teeth?
The importance of maintaining the health of primary (baby) teeth is often understated. Primary teeth are essential for speech production, chewing, jaw development, and they also facilitate the proper alignment and spacing of permanent adult teeth. Brushing primary teeth prevents bad breath and tooth decay, and also removes the plaque bacteria associated with childhood periodontal disease.
What differences are there among toothpaste brands?
Though all toothpastes are not created equal, most brands generally contain abrasive ingredients to remove stains, soapy ingredients to eliminate plaque, fluorides to strengthen tooth enamel, and some type of pleasant-tasting flavoring.
The major differences between brands are the thickness of the paste, the level of fluoride content, and the type of flavoring. Although fluoride strengthens enamel and repels plaque bacteria, too much of it can actually harm young teeth – a condition known as dental fluorosis. Children between the ages of one and four years old are most at risk for this condition, so fluoride levels should be carefully monitored during this time.
Be aware that adult and non-ADA approved brands of toothpaste often contain harsher abrasives, which remove tooth enamel and weaken primary teeth. In addition, some popular toothpaste brands contain sodium lauryl sulfate (shown as “SLS” on the package), which cause painful mouth ulcers in some children.
So which toothpaste brand should I choose?
The most important considerations to make before implementing an oral care plan and choosing a toothpaste brand is the age of the child. Home oral care should begin before the emergence of the first tooth. A cool clean cloth should be gently rubbed along the gums after feeding to remove food particles and bacteria.
Prior to the age of two, the child will have many teeth and brushing should begin. Initially, select fluoride-free “baby” toothpaste and softly brush the teeth twice per day. Flavoring is largely unimportant, so the child can play an integral role in choosing whatever type of toothpaste tastes most pleasant.
Between the middle and the end of the third year, select an American Dental Association (ADA) accepted brand of toothpaste containing fluoride. The ADA logo is clear and present on toothpaste packaging, so be sure to check for it. Use only a tiny pea or rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, and encourage the child to spit out the excess after brushing. Eliminating the toothpaste takes practice, patience, and motivation – especially if the child finds the flavoring tasty. If the child does ingest tiny amounts of toothpaste, don’t worry; this is perfectly normal and will cease with time and encouragement.
Dental fluorosis is not a risk factor for children over the age of eight, but an ADA accepted toothpaste is always the recommended choice for children of any age.
If you have questions or concerns about choosing an appropriate brand of toothpaste for your child, your pediatric dentist will be happy to make recommendations.
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When Should Children Have Their First Dental Visit?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) suggests that parents should make an initial “well-baby” appointment with a pediatric dentist approximately six months after the emergence of the first tooth, or no later than the child’s first birthday.
Although this may seem surprisingly early, the incidence of infant and toddler tooth decay has been rising in recent years. Tooth decay and early cavities can be exceptionally painful if they are not attended to immediately, and can also set the scene for poor oral health in later childhood.
The pediatric dentist is a specialist in child psychology and child behavior, and should be viewed as an important source of information, help, and guidance. Oftentimes, the pediatric dentist can provide strategies for eliminating unwanted oral habits (for example, pacifier use and thumb sucking) and can also help parents in establishing a sound daily oral routine for the child.
What potential dental problems can babies experience?
A baby is at risk for tooth decay as soon as the first tooth emerges. During the first visit, the pediatric dentist will help parents implement a preventative strategy to protect the teeth from harm, and also demonstrate how infant teeth should be brushed and flossed.
In particular, infants who drink breast milk, juice, baby formula, soda, or sweetened water from a baby bottle or sippy cup are at high-risk for early childhood caries (cavities). To counteract this threat, the pediatric dentist discourages parents from filling cups with sugary fluids, dipping pacifiers in honey, and transmitting oral bacteria to the child via shared spoons and/or cleaning pacifiers in their own mouths.
Importantly, the pediatric dentist can also assess and balance the infant’s fluoride intake. Too much fluoride ingestion between the ages of one and four years old may lead to a condition known as fluorosis in later childhood. Conversely, too little fluoride may render young tooth enamel susceptible to tooth decay.
What happens during the first visit?
Pediatric dentists have fun-filled, stimulating dental offices. All dental personnel are fully trained to communicate with infants and young children.
During the initial visit, the pediatric dentist will advise parents to implement a good oral care routine, ask questions about the child’s oral habits, and examine the child’s emerging teeth. The pediatric dentist and parent sit knee-to-knee for this examination to enable the child to view the parent at all times. If the infant’s teeth appear stained, the dentist may clean them. Oftentimes, a topical fluoride treatment will be applied to the teeth after this cleaning.
What questions may the pediatric dentist ask during the first visit?
The pediatric dentist will ask questions about current oral care, diet, the general health of the child, the child’s oral habits, and the child’s current fluoride intake.
Once answers to these questions have been established, the pediatric dentist can advise parents on the following issues:
- Accident prevention.
- Adding xylitol and fluoride to the infant’s diet.
- Choosing an ADA approved, non-fluoridated brand of toothpaste for the infant.
- Choosing an appropriate toothbrush.
- Choosing an orthodontically correct pacifier.
- Correct positioning of the head during tooth brushing.
- Easing the transition from sippy cup to adult-sized drinking glasses (12-14 months).
- Eliminating fussing during the oral care routine.
- Establishing a drink-free bedtime routine.
- Maintaining good dietary habits.
- Minimizing the risk of tooth decay.
- Reducing sugar and carbohydrate intake.
- Teething and developmental milestones.
If you have further questions or concerns about the timing or nature of your child’s first oral checkup, please ask your pediatric dentist.
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When Will My Baby Start Getting Teeth?
The initial growth period for primary (baby) teeth begins in the second trimester of pregnancy (around 16-20 weeks). During this time, it is especially important for expectant mothers to eat a healthy, nutritious diet, since nutrients are needed for bone and soft tissue development.
Though there are some individual differences in the timing of tooth eruption, primary teeth usually begin to emerge when the infant is between six and eight months old. Altogether, a set of twenty primary teeth will emerge by the age of three.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends a first “well-baby” dental visit around the age of twelve months (or six months after the first tooth emerges). This visit acquaints the infant with the dental office, allows the pediatric dentist to monitor development, and provides a great opportunity for parents to ask questions.
Which teeth emerge first?
In general, teeth emerge in pairs, starting at the front of the infant’s mouth. Between the ages of six and ten months, the two lower central incisors break through. Remember that cavities may develop between two adjacent teeth, so flossing should begin at this point.
Next (and sometimes simultaneously), the two upper central incisors emerge – usually between the ages of eight and twelve months. Teething can be quite an uncomfortable process for the infant. Clean teething rings and cold damp cloths can help ease the irritation and discomfort.
Between the ages of nine and sixteen months the upper lateral incisors emerge – one on either side of the central incisors. Around the same time, the lower lateral incisors emerge, meaning that the infant has four adjacent teeth on the lower and upper arches. Pediatric dentists suggest that sippy cup usage should end when the toddler reaches the age of fourteen months. This minimizes the risk of “baby bottle tooth decay.”
Eight more teeth break through between the ages of thirteen and twenty three months. On each arch, a cuspid or canine tooth will appear immediately adjacent to each lateral incisor. Immediately behind (looking towards the back of the child’s mouth), first molars will emerge on either side of the canine teeth on both jaws.
Finally, a second set of molars emerges on each arch – usually beginning on the lower arch. Most children have a complete set of twenty primary teeth before the age of thirty-three months. The pediatric dentist generally applies dental sealant to the molars, to lock out food particles, bacteria, and enamel-attacking acids.
How can I reduce the risk of early caries (cavities)?
Primary teeth preserve space for permanent teeth and guide their later alignment. In addition, primary teeth help with speech production, prevent the tongue from posturing abnormally, and play an important role in the chewing of food. For these reasons, it is critically important to learn how to care for the child’s emerging teeth.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Brush twice each day – The AAPD recommends a pea-sized amount of ADA approved (non-fluoridated) toothpaste for children under two years old, and the same amount of an ADA approved (fluoridated) toothpaste for children over this age. The toothbrush should be soft-bristled and appropriate for infants.
- Start flossing – Flossing an infant’s teeth can be difficult but the process should begin when two adjacent teeth emerge. The pediatric dentist will happily demonstrate good flossing techniques.
- Provide a balanced diet – Sugars and starches feed oral bacteria, which produce harmful acids and attack tooth enamel. Ensure that the child is eating a balanced diet and work to reduce sugary and starchy snacks.
- Set a good example – Children who see parents brushing and flossing are often more likely to follow suit. Explain the importance of good oral care to the child; age-appropriate books often help with this.
- Visit the dentist – The pediatric dentist monitors oral development, provides professional cleanings, applies topical fluoride to the teeth, and coats molars with sealants. Biannual trips to the dental office can help to prevent a wide range of painful conditions later.
If you have questions or concerns about the emergence of your child’s teeth, please contact your pediatric dentist.
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