Pregnancy, Hormones & Oral Health

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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Pregnant woman.You probably know that many physical and emotional changes you will experience during pregnancy result from an increase in the levels of certain hormones — the chemicals that regulate many important processes in the body. But what you may not realize is that these hormonal variations can affect your oral health — and usually not for the better. In fact, surges in the female hormones estrogen and progesterone can dilate (expand) the tiny blood vessels in your gums, increasing blood flow. This makes gums more sensitive to the bacteria (and associated toxins) found in the sticky dental plaque that accumulates on teeth every day.

Pregnant women commonly notice that their gums may become red and swollen, and even bleed when they floss or brush their teeth, a condition known as “pregnancy gingivitis.” Similar gum inflammation can result from taking birth control pills that contain a type of synthetic progesterone, or even from the normal hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle.

Another, less common effect of pregnancy hormones on the gums is an overgrowth of gum tissue or small, berry-colored lumps at the gum line or between teeth. These growths are called “pregnancy tumors,” though they are completely benign.

All of the above conditions usually clear up within a few months after giving birth. Still, if you experience gum inflammation, it's a sign that you need to take extra conscientious care of your teeth and gums during pregnancy.

Why It Matters

Pregnancy hormones don't cause gingivitis by themselves — the irritants in plaque need to be present first. So if you experience the signs and symptoms mentioned above, you'll want to redouble your oral hygiene efforts, both for your sake and your baby's. Untreated gingivitis can progress to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis — a bacterial infection that attacks not just the gums but also the tooth-supporting bone beneath. It can eventually cause bone loss, loose teeth and even tooth loss. Some research has even indicated a link between periodontal (gum) diseases and other serious health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Pregnant women should also be aware that studies have suggested a link between periodontal (gum) disease and preterm delivery. Although the exact mechanism by which this happens is unclear, evidence suggests that the bacteria in dental plaque can reach the placenta and trigger inflammatory responses. This causes substances to be released into the bloodstream that may in turn start labor prematurely. Preeclampsia, a form of high blood pressure specific to pregnancy, may also be associated with periodontal disease.

What You Can Do

  • Eat right. Even if pregnancy cravings are driving you to seek out sugar, try to go easy on the sweets. While they offer you and your developing baby virtually nothing in the way of nutrients, they're the favorite food of disease-causing oral bacteria. If you find you can't resist sweets, try to eat them only at mealtimes and make sure to brush your teeth afterwards.
  • Stick to a good oral hygiene routine. Make sure to floss every day and to brush your teeth at least twice per day. If morning (or afternoon or evening) sickness is a problem, don't brush immediately after throwing up. That's because the enamel on your teeth, which has been temporarily softened by the acid coming up from your stomach, can now be easily removed. Instead, rinse with a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a cup of water (or even plain water) to neutralize the acid. Wait a full hour before brushing your teeth.
  • Have a dental cleaning and exam. Not only are professional cleanings safe during pregnancy, they're highly recommended. So if you haven't been to the dentist in a while, now is a great time to make an appointment. And don't forget to share the happy news! You teeth can certainly be cleaned and examined — but for other non-emergency dental procedures, it's probably best to wait.

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