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!
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You always brush twice a day, avoid sugary snacks between meals, and go to the dentist regularly. Do you still have to floss your teeth?
The short answer: Yes, at least once a day. Flossing is probably your single most important weapon against plaque, the clingy bacterial biofilm that sticks to the surfaces of your teeth. Plaque is the principal cause of tooth decay; but it is also the cause of periodontitis (gum disease), bad breath, and other maladies. Brushing is a good start — but flossing removes plaque in places a brush can't reach, like the small gaps between teeth and under the gums. It also polishes tooth surfaces and decreases the risk of gum disease.
Some people may think they don't have time to floss, but once you get the hang of it, flossing only takes few minutes. If you are going to floss only once a day, it's best to do it at night just before going to sleep. That's because there is less saliva present in your mouth when you are sleeping, so plaque is more concentrated and potentially more harmful. Just in case you never really learned proper flossing techniques, here's a step by step approach including some easy tips for doing a great job.
Proper Flossing Technique
Cut off a piece of floss about 18 inches long. Wind it around the middle finger of both hands leaving a gap of around three or four inches. You will now be able to use different combinations of your thumbs and index fingers to correctly position the floss between your teeth for all areas of your mouth.
TIP: The most common mistake people make while flossing is that they tighten their lips and cheeks making it impossible to get their fingers into the mouth. Relax your lips and cheeks.
Now, guide the floss gently into the space between your teeth.
TIP: Even if the gap is tight, try not to snap the floss into your gums as you're inserting it. A side-to-side sawing motion is good to use here, but only when slipping the floss gently between the teeth.
There are two sides to each space between your teeth and you must floss each side separately so as not to injure the triangle of gum tissue between your teeth. Run the floss up and down the surface of the tooth, making sure you are going down to the gum line and then up to the highest contact point between the teeth. Apply pressure with your fingers away from the gum triangle, letting it curve around the side of the tooth forming the letter “C” with the floss.
TIP: You want your fingers as close to the front and back of the tooth as possible so both fingers move in harmony up and down until you hear a squeaky clean sound. This is easier with unwaxed floss. The smaller the amount of floss between your fingers, the more control you have flossing.
- Next, move your fingers to the top contact area between the teeth and slide across to the other side of the space. Apply pressure with your fingers in the opposite direction and repeat.
- Slide the floss out from between the teeth. If it's frayed or brownish, that's good: you're removing plaque! Unwind a little new floss from the “dispenser” finger, and take up the used floss on the other finger.
- Repeat the process on the next space between teeth. Work all around the mouth — and don't forget back sides of the last molars.
Variations for Comfort
If you're having trouble with the two-finger method, here's another way to try flossing: Just tie the same amount of floss into a big loop, place all your fingers (but not thumbs) inside the loop, and work it around your teeth with index fingers and thumbs. All the other steps remain the same.
Once you've got the basics down, there are a few different types of flosses you can try, including flavored, waxed, and wider width. Some people find waxed floss slides more easily into tighter gaps between teeth or restorations — but it may not make that satisfying “squeak” as it's cleaning. Others prefer wide floss for cleaning around bridgework. But whichever way works best for you, the important thing is to keep it up!
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