Toothpaste

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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Toothpaste.Toothpaste: It's something most people use every day, but rarely give much thought to — except, perhaps, when choosing from among the dozens of brands that line the drugstore shelf. Is there any difference between them? What's toothpaste made of… and does it really do what it promises on the box? To answer those questions, let's take a closer look inside the tube.

The soft, slightly grainy paste that you squeeze on your brush is the latest in a long line of tooth-cleaning substances whose first recorded use was around the time of the ancient Egyptians. Those early mixtures had ingredients like crushed bones, pumice and ashes — but you won't find that any more. Modern toothpastes have evolved into an effective means of cleaning teeth and preventing decay. Today, most have a similar set of active ingredients, including:

  • Abrasives, which help remove surface deposits and stains from teeth, and make the mechanical action of brushing more effective. They typically include gentle cleaning and polishing agents like hydrated silica or alumina, calcium carbonate or dicalcium phosphate.
  • Detergents, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, which produce the bubbly foam you may notice when brushing vigorously. They help to break up and dissolve substances that would normally be hard to wash away, just like they do in the laundry — but with far milder ingredients.
  • Fluoride, the vital tooth-protective ingredient in toothpaste. Whether it shows up as sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate (MFP), fluoride has been conclusively proven to help strengthen tooth enamel and prevent decay.

Besides their active ingredients, most toothpastes also contain preservatives, binders, and flavorings — without which they would tend to dry out, separate… or taste awful. In addition, some specialty toothpastes have additional ingredients for therapeutic purposes.

  • Whitening toothpastes generally contain special abrasives or enzymes designed to help remove stains on the tooth's surfaces. Whether or not they will work for you depends on why your teeth aren't white in the first place: If it's an extrinsic (surface) stain, they can be effective; however, they probably won't help with intrinsic (internal) discoloration, which may require a professional whitening treatment.
  • Toothpastes for sensitive teeth often include ingredients like potassium nitrate or strontium chloride, which can block sensations of pain. Teeth may become sensitive when dentin (the material within the tooth, which is normally covered by enamel, or by the gums) becomes exposed in the mouth. These ingredients can make brushing less painful, but it may take a few weeks until you really notice their effects.

What's the best way to choose a toothpaste? The main thing you should look for is the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance on the label. It means that the toothpaste contains fluoride — and that the manufacturer's other claims have been independently tested and verified.

But once you've chosen your favorite, keep this bit of dental wisdom in mind: It's not the brush (or the paste) that keeps your mouth healthy — it's the hand that holds it. Don't forget that regular brushing is one of the best ways to prevent tooth decay and maintain good oral hygiene.

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