Your child won't keep his or her first teeth forever, but that doesn't mean those tiny pearly whites don't need conscientious care. Maintaining your child's dental health now will provide health benefits well into adulthood, as primary (baby) teeth serve some extremely important functions.
For one thing, primary teeth serve as guides for the eruption of permanent (adult) teeth, holding the space into which these new teeth will erupt. The crowns (tops) of the permanent teeth actually push against the roots of the baby teeth, causing them to resorb, or melt away. In this way, the adult teeth can take their proper place.
What's more, your child's primary teeth will be there for most of childhood, helping your child to bite, chew and speak. For the first six or so years, he or she will be relying on primary teeth exclusively to perform these important functions. Until around age 12, your child will have a mix of primary and permanent teeth. You will want to make sure those teeth stay healthy and are lost naturally — when it's time.
Your Child's First Teeth
Your child's 20 baby teeth will begin to appear usually between six and nine months, though in some cases it may start as early as three months or as late as twelve months. The two lower front teeth tend to erupt first, followed by the two upper ones, these teeth are called the central incisors. Then the neighboring teeth called lateral incisors will erupt too. The first molars come in next, followed by the canines (eyeteeth). And finally, the last teeth to erupt are the two-year molars. Sometimes your baby can experience teething discomfort during this process. If so, there are courses of action to help make your child more comfortable.
Your infant's gums should be gently wiped after each feeding with a water-soaked gauze pad or damp washcloth. As soon as the first tooth erupts, establish a daily brushing routine with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and no more than a thin smear of fluoridated toothpaste. Your child may need your help with this important task until about the age of 6.
Your Child's First Dental Appointment
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that your child see a dentist by his/her first birthday, or as early as the first tooth erupts. Though this may sound early, learning proper pediatric oral hygiene techniques, checking for cavities, and watching for developmental problems is extremely important.
There are a number of forms of tooth decay that can affect babies and small children. Early Childhood Caries (tooth decay) can develop rapidly, progressing from the hard, outer enamel layer of a tooth into the softer, inner dentin in six months or less.
Most of all, it's important for your child to have a positive experience at the dental office as he/she will be a regular visitor for years to come.
Pediatric Dental Treatments
There are a variety of dental treatments offered to prevent tooth decay in children, or to save or repair teeth when necessary. They include:
Topical Fluoride — Fluoride incorporates into the enamel of teeth, making it harder and more resistant to decay. Although there is a small amount of fluoride in toothpastes and in some drinking water supplies, a higher concentration can be applied professionally to your child's teeth for maximum protection.
Dental Sealants — A plastic coating can be applied at the dental office to prevent cavities by sealing the little grooves on the chewing surfaces of back teeth known as “pits and fissures.” These little crevices become the perfect environments for decay-causing bacteria. Immature tooth enamel is more permeable and therefore less resistant to tooth decay. Dental sealants are easy to apply and provide years of protection (Watch Dental Sealant Video).
Root Canal Treatment — Perhaps you have had a root canal treatment yourself, to save an injured or severely decayed tooth. Well, sometimes children need root canals, too. In children these are called pulpotomies or pulpectomies. As mentioned above, baby teeth are important guides to the permanent teeth that are already forming beneath your child's gums. Therefore, saving them from premature loss can help prevent a malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite) that requires orthodontic treatment.
Bonding — Chips and minor fractures to front teeth — common childhood occurrences — can be repaired with tooth-colored bonding materials. These lifelike resins made of plastic and glass can be used on baby teeth as well as permanent teeth and last until the youngster has completed facial growth (Watch Bonding Video).
By around age 7, most malocclusions have become evident. Interceptive orthodontic treatment around this time can help direct proper tooth positioning and/or jaw growth, eliminating or simplifying the need for later treatment. There are many orthodontic problems that can be detected early and are examples of why a trained professional should evaluate your child during his/her growth and development.
Sports & Your Child's Teeth
If your child is active in sports, a custom-made mouthguard is a highly recommended safeguard. According to the American Dental Association, an athlete is 60 times more likely to suffer dental harm when not wearing one of these protective devices. A custom mouthguard is made specifically for your child using a model of his or her teeth. This will offer greater protection than an off-the-shelf model. It's an investment that pays off highly in the form of reduced pain, suffering — and dental expenses down the road!
Dentistry and Oral Health for Children Dear Doctor magazine brings you this wide-ranging overview of milestones and transitions in your child's dental development. Learn how to protect your children from tooth decay, dental injuries, and unhealthy habits while getting them started on the road to a lifetime of oral health and general well-being... Read Article
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How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health Proper oral health habits are easy to learn — and lead to behaviors that result in lifelong dental health. And the time to begin is as soon as your child's first baby teeth appear. From toothbrushing for your toddler to helping your teenager stay away from tobacco, Dear Doctor magazine offers the most important tips for healthy habit formation through childhood and beyond... Read Article
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For many teens, braces are a rite of passage: They're one more example of the changes adolescents go through at this time — along with growth in stature, edgier tastes in clothes and music, and an increasing degree of self-awareness. But is there any particular reason why orthodontic appliances and teenagers seem to go together? In a word: Yes.
There are several good reasons why adolescence is the optimal time for orthodontic treatment, though occasionally even earlier intervention is called for. One has to do with the development of the teeth: There's no set timetable for every kid, but generally by the age of 11-13 the deciduous (baby) teeth have all been lost, and the permanent ones have largely come in. This is the time when we can go to work correcting the problems that cause a bad bite (malocclusion), improper tooth spacing or poor alignment.
Orthodontic problems don't improve with age — they simply become harder to treat. It's easier to treat many orthodontic problems during adolescence because the body is still growing rapidly at this time. Whether standard braces are used, or appliances like palatal expanders, improved appearance and function can be created in a short period of time. In later years, when the bones of the face and jaw are fully developed, many conditions become more difficult (and costly) to treat.
There's even a social element to getting orthodontic treatment in adolescence. If you need braces, you're not alone! Chances are you'll see some of your classmates in the dental office, and you may even make new friends as you go through the process together. When it's done, you'll have a smile that you can really be proud of, and benefits that will last your whole life.
The Orthodontic Treatment Process
What can you expect when you have orthodontic treatment? It all depends on what kind of treatment you need. At your first appointment, pictures and radiographic (X-ray) images of your mouth are usually taken, along with impressions of your teeth, so that a model of your bite can be made. This information will be used to develop a treatment plan. It may involve regular braces, with or without elastics (rubber bands). A specialized appliance may also be recommended for a period of time. Here are some of the most commonly used orthodontic appliances:
Metal Braces need no introduction. But you might be surprised to find they're smaller and lighter than ever. They may even offer some customized options, like colored elastic ties on the brackets.
Clear Braces feature brackets made of ceramic or composite materials which blend in with your teeth, making them harder to notice. They're suitable in many situations, but they cost a little more.
Clear Aligners for teens is a series of removable, clear plastic trays that gradually straighten teeth as they're worn (for 22 hours per day). Formerly recommended only for adult patients, they now come with special features — like compliance indicators to tell how often you've been wearing them — that make them appropriate for teens in some situations. The advantage: they're practically invisible!
Lingual Braces offer the most unnoticeable form of orthodontic treatment because they are attached to the back (tongue side) of the teeth, where they cannot be seen at all.
Other orthodontic appliances may be recommended in some cases, where major tooth or jaw movement is needed. They can range from small devices that fit inside the mouth to external headgear. But don't worry: You'll get used to them, and they're temporary — but they provide a long-term benefit in a short time.
How Long Will I Wear Them?
There's no one answer that fits everyone: It all depends on what has to be done in your individual situation. Generally, however, the active stage of orthodontic treatment lasts 6-30 months. Afterwards, you will wear a retainer for another period of months. When your orthodontic treatment is complete, a new smile will be yours for a lifetime.
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