Few parents realize that their children are at risk for tooth decay from the moment the first tooth appears (around 6 months). Even though baby teeth are temporary, they are important; they serve as placeholders for adult teeth, and if they are lost too early, their adult replacements may grow in too early and affect the position of permanent teeth that come in later. Tooth decay and damage can also lead to issues with speech development that require therapy for correction later in life.
Pediatric dental disease is the number-one chronic childhood illness, and it continues to plague children throughout the course of their development and into their adult years — but it doesn’t have to. Teaching children good dental habits at an early age and making sure they attend routine dental visits goes a long way toward helping them maintain a pain-free, healthy, and beautiful smile for a lifetime.
The following information functions as a road map for understanding your children’s oral development and health throughout their ages and stages.
Birth to 1 Year
You should be caring for your baby’s teeth before they even appear. Infant toothbrushes come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Most are made out of a soft BPA-, lead- and phthalate-free silicone and have tiny bristles parents can use to gently brush gums after each feeding. Once your baby is old enough to sit and hold objects, there are similar brushes that resemble teething rings, which babies can hold and massage their own gums with.
Your child should have his or her first dental exam by the time they are 1 year old.
When Baby’s First Tooth Appears
As soon as baby’s first tooth appears, you should begin brushing with the infant toothbrush and water twice a day. Sugars are detrimental to teeth, and too much can quickly lead to tooth decay. Try to limit your child’s juice intake to one cup a day. Also, be aware of your child’s sucking behaviors and habits. If your baby sucks his or her thumb, finger, or pacifier, now is a good time to start planning out how you will break the habit. Regular sucking can negatively affect your child’s bite.
Your pediatrician will inspect your child’s teeth at each well-child exam and will refer you to a dentist should any concerns arise. You should consult with your pediatrician about fluoride, sealants, and additional ways you can support your child in the development of excellent oral hygiene habits.
By the time your child is 2 and a half, they should have all of their baby teeth. At the age of 2, your child is ready to start learning how to brush their own teeth two times a day. Soft-bristled, child-size toothbrushes are available and make reaching difficult spots easier for uncoordinated little hands. At this age, your child can use a pea-size amount of toothpaste with fluoride. Allow them to brush their own teeth for a couple of minutes, then finish by taking the brush and making sure every tooth has been gently scrubbed. Once you are finished, have your child spit the remaining toothpaste into the sink.
Tips for Avoiding Toddler Tooth Decay
- Avoid sugary snacks and drinks.
- If your child needs milk or formula before bedtime, make sure to rinse their mouth out prior to laying them down.
- If your child requires a bottle at bedtime, fill it with water.
6 Years and Beyond
Your child will start losing their primary teeth around 6 years. They will continue to lose primary teeth and gain most of their permanent teeth until around the age of 13, when they should have 28 permanent teeth. If there is enough room, their final teeth — the wisdom teeth — will erupt around the age of 17. If your child’s dentist believes room is limited, he or she may recommend that the wisdom teeth be removed.
A variety of dental issues may arise throughout the course of your child’s development. Regular dental visits will ensure that they are caught and dealt with early. Children no longer have to wait until they are adolescents to have their first orthodontist visit. Issues requiring orthodontics can be attended to starting as early as 6 years old. This doesn’t mean treatment will be started right away, but the orthodontist will be able to determine the earliest possible time treatment can begin.
Orthodontia has come a long way, and treatments don’t have to take place late in life, nor do they take as long. With the right oral hygiene habits and the proper dental care, your child can have a beautiful, healthy smile well before they walk down the graduation aisle.
For more information about how to care for your children’s teeth as they grow, call us today. We are here to ensure that your most precious family members enjoy a lifetime of beautiful, healthy, and happy smiles.