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!
Dentistry and Oral Health for Children Dear Doctor magazine brings you this wide-ranging overview of milestones and transitions in your child's dental development. Learn how to protect your children from tooth decay, dental injuries, and unhealthy habits while getting them started on the road to a lifetime of oral health and general well-being... Read Article
Pregnancy & Oral Health Pregnancy is generally thought of as the time when a woman strives to be particularly aware of the need for better health. Many women, though, may not be aware of the link that exists between their oral health and their systemic (general) health, as well as the impact this can have on a developing child. Learn about how to care for yourself and your baby... Read Article
How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health Proper oral health habits are easy to learn — and lead to behaviors that result in lifelong dental health. And the time to begin is as soon as your child's first baby teeth appear. From toothbrushing for your toddler to helping your teenager stay away from tobacco, Dear Doctor magazine offers the most important tips for healthy habit formation through childhood and beyond... Read Article
Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children There's no need to wait until your baby actually has teeth to lay the foundations for good oral or general health. In fact, good nutrition and oral hygiene can start right away. It is up to you to develop the routines that will help protect your child from tooth decay and other oral health problems. So let's get started... Read Article
The main goal of dentistry is to preserve your natural teeth and keep them healthy for as long as possible. There are times, however, when it is in your best interest (or your child's) to have a tooth extracted (removed). This could be the case for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you have a tooth that has been severely damaged by trauma or decay; or an impacted wisdom tooth that may cause trouble for you later on. Maybe your teenager will soon undergo orthodontic treatment and has insignificant space for his adult teeth, referred to as crowding. Or your younger child has a baby tooth that's stubbornly adhering, even though it's past time for it to go.
Whatever the reason, tooth extraction is more often than not a very routine procedure. How straightforward this minor surgery is will depend on where the tooth to be extracted is located in the mouth, and what its roots are like. For example, a front tooth with a single straight root is easier to remove than a molar with multiple roots. This is especially true when that molar is a wisdom tooth that is impacted, meaning it is below the surface surrounded by gum tissue and bone. Often, a wisdom tooth is blocked from fully erupting (growing in) by other teeth in its path.
Still, tooth extraction is nothing to be feared when done by an experienced hand. Keep in mind that a tooth is not rigidly fixed in its surrounding bone, though that's how some may picture it. In fact, it is attached to the bone via a network of fibers that form what's known as the periodontal ligament. By carefully manipulating the tooth, these fibers can be detached and the tooth freed without much trouble.
Reasons for Extracting a Tooth
As mentioned above, there can be a variety of reasons for extracting a tooth. Be sure to ask questions about the pros and cons of any dental treatment, including extraction.
- Trauma or Disease — In both of these situations, there are several ways to try and save the tooth. The damaged tooth might need a full-coverage crown, a root canal treatment, or both. But sometimes even these methods are not enough to keep the tooth functioning well and looking good; it might be better to remove the tooth and replace it with a strong and lifelike dental implant.
- Orthodontic Treatment — Teeth are sometimes extracted when there are too many of them for the size of the dental arches (jaws), a situation known as crowding. After an adequate amount of space is opened up through the extraction of one or more teeth, the remaining teeth can be aligned properly. The teeth most frequently removed for orthodontic reasons are the first premolars, which are right next to the eyeteeth (canines).
- Impacted Wisdom Teeth — Early removal of impacted wisdom teeth can prevent damage to neighboring healthy teeth, bone, gum tissue, even nerves and blood vessels. If an impacted wisdom tooth is in a bad position, it's best to remove it before its roots are fully formed.
- Baby Teeth — If a baby tooth is out of position or not lost in the right sequence, the permanent tooth underneath it might not erupt normally. In this case, removing the baby tooth could prevent a need for orthodontic treatment later on.
The Process of Extracting a Tooth
The first step in any extraction is a radiographic (x-ray) examination to assess the position of the tooth roots and the condition of the surrounding bone. This will allow any possible complications to be anticipated. A thorough medical and drug history is taken, to ensure that you are healthy enough to undergo the procedure, and your options for anesthesia will be discussed.
Tooth extraction is usually carried out with local anesthesia, which will numb the teeth to be removed, and the surrounding bone and gum tissues. Additional sedatives might also be used, including oral sedatives (taken in pill form), nitrous oxide (which is inhaled) and/or conscious sedation, which is given intravenously (into a vein). The latter is usually required for more complicated (or multiple) tooth extractions. By the time the sedation medication has worn off, you won't even be aware that the surgery was done.
As your tooth is being removed, steps are taken to ensure the bone that surrounds it isn't damaged. Sometimes, in the process of removing a tooth, a small amount of lab-processed bone-grafting material is placed into the socket to help preserve the bone volume there. This is particularly important when the extraction is going to be followed at some point by the placement of a dental implant, which needs to fuse to existing bone, or orthodontics, which gently moves teeth through bone.
What to Expect After Tooth Extraction
Immediately after your tooth is extracted, the socket will be covered with sterile gauze; gentle pressure will be applied for 10-20 minutes to control any bleeding. Small sutures (stitches) might also be used for this purpose. It's normal to experience some mild to moderate post-operative discomfort and/or swelling. Taking non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and/or aspirin the day of surgery should control most symptoms. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to ensure infection-free healing. Using ice packs on the outside of your jaw, and eating softer foods until you feel more comfortable can also be helpful. Within a few days, all should be back to normal.
Wisdom Teeth – To Be Or Not To Be Wisdom teeth, which typically make their appearance between the ages of 17 and 25, can cause significant problems when there is not enough room for them to grow in properly. As a person ages, the effects of retained and impacted wisdom teeth can be more consequential. This article reviews the issues associated with wisdom teeth and whether or not they should be removed... Read Article
Simple Tooth Extraction? Removing teeth, while not a particularly pleasant experience, is a routine and uncomplicated procedure in the hands of an expert. It is important that all the potential risks, benefits and possible outcomes of tooth removal are reviewed with you beforehand, so you know what to expect... Read Article
Tooth Removal For Orthodontic Reasons When there are too many teeth for the size of the dental arches (upper and/or lower jaws), there may not be enough space to align them. A common solution is to create the necessary space by removing one tooth (premolar) on each side to allow the others to be aligned correctly... Read Article