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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At one time or another, almost everyone has probably experienced some degree of tooth pain, from minor aches and sensitivity to acute distress. In general, the sensation of pain is a protective response that tells the body something is wrong. But when it affects your teeth, the exact source of the pain can be difficult to pinpoint; it may also come and go in response to other stimuli, like eating hot foods. So what is tooth pain signaling, and what should you do about it?
The most common cause of dental pain is tooth decay, a bacterial infection that can spread through many parts of the tooth, and even into the gum tissue. Traumatic damage and gum disease can also result in tooth pain.
The only sure way to know what's causing tooth pain is to see a dentist, who will ask detailed questions about what you're feeling and perform diagnostic tests, such as x-rays, to try and identify the exact source of the pain. However, there are some general ways to describe the sensations you may be experiencing — and their potential cause.
Severe Pain/Root Canal Emergencies
Constant, severe pain and pressure, swelling of the gums, and sensitivity to touch indicate an infection in the tooth, possibly accompanied by an abscess (inflamed, pus-filled sac) in the surrounding gum and bone tissue. In this case, it's important to see a dentist or endodontist right away — not only to relieve the pain, but also to save the tooth while it's still possible. Treatment may include a root canal to remove diseased or dying pulp tissue, and/or periodontal procedures to drain the abscess and stop the infection.
Lingering pain after eating hot or cold foods usually indicates disease in the pulp tissue deep inside the tooth. Deep decay or physical trauma to the tooth may have allowed bacteria to infect the pulp tissue or compromise the pulp vitality. As nerves inside the pulp tissue die, the pain may go away, but the infection won't — in fact, it can spread and cause significant damage. Make an appointment to see a dental professional as soon as possible; a root canal may be needed to ease the pain and preserve the tooth.
Sharp pain when biting down on food can be caused by severe tooth decay, a loose filling, a crack in the tooth, or possibly by damaged pulp tissue inside the tooth. It should be evaluated by a dentist as soon as possible. Depending on the cause, treatment may involve filling, bonding, root canal therapy, or other procedures.
Occasional or momentary sensitivity to hot or cold foods may be caused by a tiny area of decay, a loose filling, or a small amount of gum recession that has exposed the roots of the teeth. To alleviate the symptoms, you can try using a soft brush and toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth, for a couple of weeks. If that doesn't help, call the dental office to schedule and appointment. Dental treatment itself sometimes causes temporary sensitivity, which can often be relieved by the same methods. If pain persists or grows worse, however, be sure to seek treatment.
A severe sinus headache or congestion from colds or flu may cause you to experience symptoms such as a dull ache or pressure in the upper teeth and jaw. When the illness goes away, the dental distress should cease too. Tooth clenching or grinding (bruxism) has also been known to cause this type of discomfort. If you have these habits, you may want to have a nightguard made at the dental office to protect your teeth and jaws from too much force.
No matter what type of tooth pain or discomfort you are experiencing, it is important to seek treatment if it persists.
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