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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With proper care, your teeth can last a lifetime. But some amount of wear as we age is normal. By “wear,” we mean loss of tooth structure. Wear starts with loss of the hard, translucent enamel that forms the outer covering of teeth, and might, in more serious cases, progress to the softer inner tooth structure known as dentin.
Enamel is actually the human body's hardest substance. It is highly mineralized and non-living, in contrast to bone and dentin which are living tissues. Enamel is highly resistant to wear and chemical attack, as it would have to be given what your teeth do every day: bite, chew, and come in contact with acidic foods and drinks.
Still, it is possible for tooth enamel to wear down for various reasons. Your body has ways of compensating for minor wear. But when tooth wear becomes more significant, intervention may be necessary to keep your bite functioning properly and protect your teeth.
Types of Tooth Wear
Tooth wear can result from one or more of these processes:
Abrasion: This is caused by the interaction of teeth and other materials rubbing or scraping against them. The most common source of abrasion is traumatic toothbrushing, meaning that you are using a toothbrush that's too hard or applying too much force when you brush. This can affect the root surfaces of your teeth just below the gum line or the enamel above the gum line. Other causes of abrasion can include improper use of toothpicks and dental floss. Some dental appliances such as partial dentures or retainers that are frequently taken in and out of the mouth can also abrade teeth. Abrasion can also result from a diet loaded with abrasive foods like sun flower seeds and nuts or habits such as nail-biting and pen-chewing.
Attrition: This is an effect of tooth-to-tooth contact, which happens many times throughout the day as your teeth bite and chew food. Biting and chewing normally generate forces between 13 - 23 pounds. Yet people who have clenching and grinding habits (of which they might not even be aware) can subject their teeth to forces up to 10 times that. This can damage teeth.
Erosion: When your teeth come in contact with acidic substances in your diet, the acid can actually erode (dissolve) the enamel on your teeth. Culprits of this kind of tooth wear often include sodas, sports drinks and so-called energy drinks. Certain fruit juices are also acidic. Confining these drinks to mealtimes and swishing water in your mouth after drinking them can help prevent this erosion.
Abfraction: This refers specifically to the loss of tooth enamel at the necks of the teeth (the thinner part right at the gum line). While this type of wear is not clearly understood and the cause is debated in dentistry, loss of tooth structure at the neck of teeth does happen. It is believed to be caused by tooth flexion from biting forces. Abrasion and erosion can contribute to this problem.
Treating Worn Teeth
In order to treat your worn teeth, the cause of the wear must be determined during a simple oral examination at the dental office. Once the cause has been identified, the stresses on your teeth can be reduced if need be. For example, you may need instruction on gentle, effective tooth brushing techniques; or some changes to your diet. If you have a clenching or grinding habit, a mouthguard can be custom-made for you that will protect your teeth during sleep or periods of high stress.
Lost tooth structure sometimes needs to be replaced so your bite functions properly and your teeth look great once again. Depending on the situation, this can be done with bonding, veneers, or crowns. Fortunately, modern dentistry can restore the normal shape, appearance and function of worn teeth — beautifully and successfully!
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