Fluoride

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.

Kids developing jaws and teeth.

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

Kids mouth anatomy.

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

Age one dental visit

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).

Orthodontic Concerns

Orthodontic Problems.

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!

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Fluoride Toothpaste.Fluoride is a mineral that is naturally present to some degree in both fresh and salt water sources. Its major dental benefit is that it is readily incorporated into the teeth's mineral structure, thereby making them stronger and more decay-resistant. Fluoride can even reverse tiny cavities that are starting to form. Less tooth decay means you have a better chance of avoiding significant dental treatments — and keeping your natural teeth for life.

The great majority of toothpastes sold today contain fluoride, because it's an effective, easy and inexpensive way to prevent tooth decay and promote oral health. Because of its proven health benefits, fluoride is often added to municipal water supplies to bring them to the current recommended level of 0.70 parts per million. In fact, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently named community water fluoridation as one of the most significant public health achievements of the 20th century.

Making Fluoride Available to the Teeth

Fluoride can be delivered to teeth in two ways: topically (on the surface) and systemically (through the body). The first method helps people of all ages; the latter is only beneficial in childhood while the permanent teeth are forming beneath the gum line — up to about age 9.

Fluoride ingested in drinking water can reach teeth both ways. When swallowed, it travels through the body and becomes incorporated into developing teeth; it also stays in the mouth throughout the day in a very low concentration. Toothpaste and mouthwashes provide higher concentrations over shorter periods of time. Fluoride can also be applied directly to the teeth at the dental office; children who get their water from unfluoridated sources may be prescribed a fluoride supplement in the form of pills or drops.

How Much Do You Need?

Tooth Caries Balance.

The amount of fluoride you need varies according to your particular risk for decay, which is determined by many factors: your body's own biochemistry, your diet, the amount of fluoride you come into contact with daily, and the effort you put into your own oral hygiene. If you maintain an effective daily routine of brushing and flossing, and avoid sugary and/or acidic foods and beverages, your decay risk will likely be low. If you are lax about oral hygiene, drink soda and snack throughout the day, your risk will be much higher.

Poor oral hygiene and constant intake of sweets make an ideal environment for decay-causing bacteria, which need sugar to thrive. In the process of digesting that sugar, they create tooth-eroding acids as a byproduct. And if you drink beverages that are already acidic — soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, even some fruit juices — you are applying those tooth-destroying acids directly to your teeth without using bacteria as a middleman. In that case, you might benefit from fluoride treatments at the dental office and/or regular use of a fluoride mouthrinse.

Fluorosis.However, there is such a thing as too much fluoride — particularly when it comes to children. If developing teeth absorb too much fluoride, they can become permanently stained or even pitted — a condition referred to as enamel fluorosis. It is not dangerous, but may require cosmetic dental work. That's why young children should not be allowed to swallow fluoride toothpaste. Adults who take in excessive fluoride throughout their lifetimes may become more prone to bone fractures or tenderness, a condition known as skeletal fluorosis. Severe forms of enamel or skeletal fluorosis are not common in the United States. Still, given that excessive doses of fluoride could cause problems, it's best to consult a dental professional on the most appropriate products for you and your child to use.

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