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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There's a new technology that's (literally) putting a smile on plenty of young faces: A system of clear, removable aligners made especially for teens called Invisalign Teen®! If you (or a teenager you know) are a candidate for this treatment, you might find it's the best fit for your lifestyle: It lets you eat what you want, makes it easier to clean your teeth — and best of all, it's virtually invisible.
Is a clear aligner right for you? It all depends on what kind of orthodontic treatment you need. Traditional metal braces still work best in some situations — and you might be surprised to find that they're still a popular option for many teenagers! But now that aligners are being designed specifically for teens, more are choosing them every day.
What is a clear aligner? Basically, it's a thin plastic covering or “tray” that fits over your top and/or bottom teeth. You'll wear a series of aligners that will gradually move your teeth into better positions. Here's how they work: Each aligner is custom-made with the help of a computer program that takes into account exactly where your teeth are now, and how they need to be moved. You'll wear each tray for two weeks or so, to shift your teeth slightly, and then you'll go on to the next, which is slightly different. Over time, all of the small movements will add up to a big change!
A Clear Distinction
Your aligner is designed to be worn 22 hours a day, allowing you to take it off for meals or important social occasions. Yet even when you're wearing it, it's pretty hard for anyone else to tell it's there — a big difference from metal braces! Plus, it offers other advantages that aren't so easy to see.
One benefit of aligners over traditional braces is that they make your teeth easier to clean. Because they're removable, there's nothing to keep you from brushing and flossing everywhere in your mouth, just as you would without appliances. But brushing and flossing can be much harder to do around the brackets and wires of braces — and oral hygiene often suffers.
Some people also suffer irritation to the cheeks and gums from the metal parts of braces. Fortunately, the plastic of an aligner rarely causes that kind of problem. Plus, you won't have to rush into the dental office to quickly fix a protruding wire or reattach a broken bracket. You won't have to watch what you eat, either, because you'll simply remove the aligner at mealtimes.
An Aligner Just for Teens
Clear aligners for adults have been available for over a decade, but until recently they weren't recommended for teens in most cases. Why not? Chiefly, for two reasons: It was thought that teens wouldn't always wear them for the recommended 22 hours per day; also, since many teens have some permanent teeth still erupting (emerging from below the gums), the precisely planned movement of the teeth might be disturbed.
Luckily, technology has come to the rescue. The first problem is addressed by “compliance indicators” located on the aligners themselves. These colored dots fade over time as the aligners are worn in the mouth, showing whether or not you've followed the plan. To solve the second problem, aligners made especially for teens come with “eruption tabs” built in; they are designed to hold space for teeth that have not yet fully erupted.
Today, more people than ever — both adults and teens — are finding that clear aligners suit their needs best. Are you one of them?
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