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Baby teeth are only temporary, so they don’t need a lot of attention, right? Wrong! Baby teeth used to be considered disposable since they do eventually fall out. But research shows that taking care of baby teeth is incredibly important – for children’s development, oral and overall health. With tooth decay in toddlers on the rise, the dental community is underscoring that healthy baby teeth are crucial, and they most certainly need special care.
Why Do Baby Teeth Matter?
A 2014 report by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) found that tooth decay in young children is at “epidemic” proportions. With long-term sippy cup use and sugary drinks on the rise, dentists and families realize that keeping baby teeth healthy is essential to children’s oral and overall health, and care needs to start at a very early age. Here are a few reasons why baby teeth are so important:
- Keeping baby teeth healthy and in place is essential to correct eruption and positioning of permanent teeth
- Keeping young children’s teeth and gums healthy prevents infections that can cause much bigger health problems
- Starting good dental care habits early on – with parental help and supervision – creates dental health habits for a lifetime and helps your child take care of his teeth independently when the time comes
What’s the Best Way to Clean My Baby’s Teeth?
As soon as your child gets their first tooth, you should start brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush. And many parents aren’t aware that the American Dental Association (ADA) now recommends fluoridated toothpaste even for toddlers! Start with a tiny bit for toddlers (the AAPD recommends an amount the size of a grain of rice) and move up to the traditional pea-sized smear when your child reaches 3 years old. With tooth decay on the rise in young children, fluoride simply can’t wait!
The AAPD also recommends that parents stay in charge of brushing until children are 6. While we all want to foster independence, getting teeth clean is a priority. If giving your child ownership of the process is important, let your child do the first pass while you follow up with a thorough cleaning. Keep monitoring your children’s brushing progress until second or third grade.
How Often Should I Clean My Child’s Teeth?
Even before your baby’s teeth come in, you can clean his or her gums twice a day with a damp washcloth. This is a wonderful, soothing ritual that helps establish a routine of loving oral care for a lifetime. Once that first tooth pops up, brush your child’s teeth twice a day with a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste.
When Do Babies Get Their First Tooth?
Most babies get their first tooth between 3 and 9 months, so be on the lookout in the early months. Most children start losing baby teeth around 6 or 7 years old, but they won’t lose their last molars until their late teens or early twenties. So while these “baby” teeth are temporary, they are actually part of our children’s lives for decades!
Why Are Healthy Snacks and Drinks So Important?
One of the factors identified by the AAPD in the rise of tooth decay in toddlers is the increasing use of sippy cups for long periods of time, often with juice or other sugary drinks. Use water instead of juice in your child’s bottle or sippy cup. And don’t put your child to sleep with milk or juice in a bottle or sippy cup. Finally, use sippy cups only for a short time as their special spouts bring liquids directly into contact with children’s teeth. Encourage healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables, and stick to scheduled meal times rather than snacking throughout the day.
When Should My Child Start Seeing A Dentist?
Many parents aren’t aware that the ADA recommends taking children to the dentist by their first birthday. According to the AAPD, dentists are now seeing tooth decay in children as young as 15 months, so getting them into the office early is key! This can help identify any early signs of decay or other potential problems. Connecting with your pediatric dentist early will help build a relationship with your practitioners and staff, all while making the dentist’s office a comfortable space for your child. And remember, children should see their pediatric dentist every six months for check-ups – just like mom and dad!
If you have any questions regarding the proper care of your baby’s teeth, contact NOVA Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics today!