How to Care for a Child's Teeth


Your child's baby teeth can have a huge effect on her future smiles. See more parenting pictures.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

When your baby begins to smile, you will probably see an endearing toothless grin. However, within a few months, you will notice a glimmer of something white, or you may hear a clunk when the feeding spoon touches the first tooth.

By taking a few steps early in your baby's life, you can establish a pattern to help ensure that your baby continues to have a healthy smile throughout her life. In this article, we will show you how to care for your child's teeth over the course of the following sections:  

  • The Importance of Baby Teeth Because baby teeth are impermanent, many parents might make the mistake of under-valuing the importance of their child's baby teeth. On this page, we will attempt to show you why this would be a tragic disservice to your child. Baby teeth help with a variety of normal developmental functions ranging from getting proper nutrition to learning how to talk to the correct development of jaw and facial muscles. We will also tell you how baby teeth grow in and how long you can expect them to last.
  • How to Care for Baby TeethAs a parent, you will probably notice when your child's baby teeth start coming in. They may become excessively fussy, or whine, cry, or drool more than usual. These are normal signs of teething, and, though unpleasant, are all part of becoming a parent. Once your child's baby teeth have come in, however, you also have to learn how to take care of them. We will help you with this task on this page with some simple guidelines. In addition to tooth-care tips, we will also show you the benefits of fluoride.
  • Taking a Child to a DentistTaking your child to the dentist for the first time can be a scary experience for both the child and the parent. On this page, we will give you some guidelines for your child's dental care that should give you some peace of mind. We will tell you when you should plan your first trip, how to prepare your child, and how to approach visits in the future.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

 

 

 

The Importance of Baby Teeth

Many parents overlook the importance of their child's teeth, especially their baby teeth (also called primary teeth). Some parents do not realize teeth serve functions other than biting and chewing.

Your baby's teeth perform the following functions:

  • Help provide nutrition
  • Help make speech possible
  • Aid in the normal development of the jaw bones and facial muscles
  • Add to an attractive appearance
  • Reserve space for the permanent teeth and help guide them into position

Without healthy, reasonably well-aligned teeth, your child may have difficulty chewing and may not be able to eat a well-balanced diet. If your child's mouth is sore because of cavities, loose teeth, or sore gums, she may refuse to eat or may accept only those foods or liquids she can consume without more pain. But she needs a variety of foods for a balanced diet, and chewing foods of different textures stimulates and exercises the gums and provides a cleansing action for the teeth.

The first stage of digestion of some foods takes place in the mouth, and chewing helps break up foods to more easily digested sizes. If your child swallows too rapidly and without chewing food properly, she may prolong the digestion process.

Your baby's teeth are a vital aid to speech. Without healthy, reasonably well-aligned teeth, your baby may have difficulty forming words and speaking clearly. (Think about how a child who is starting to lose primary teeth speaks.)

Like muscles in other parts of the body, your baby's face and jaw muscles need exercise to help them develop; without well-developed jaw muscles, your baby's jawbones may not develop properly. Sucking provides exercise for your baby's jaw, cheek, and tongue muscles. When your baby is old enough for solid foods, chewing also exercises these muscles. This exercise is necessary for these structures to develop enough for your baby's teeth to come in properly.

Your baby's appearance is as important to you now as it will be to her later. Not everyone naturally has sparkling white teeth and a beautiful smile. Your baby may have inherited tendencies (for example, a tendency toward having large teeth in a small jaw) that affect the appearance of her teeth.

Occurrences during the fetal stages, such as a mother having a fever or taking certain medications, may also affect early tooth development. But you can help your child learn good oral hygiene habits early, which helps add to an attractive appearance.

Your child's primary teeth must last five or ten years or longer. As a permanent tooth reaches the stage of development when it is ready to erupt (emerge through the gum), the roots of the primary tooth it will replace begin to resorb (break down and dissolve). Gradually, the permanent tooth pushes the primary tooth out and takes the place the primary tooth has been reserving for it. If a primary tooth is lost too soon, the permanent tooth has no guide to follow.

Also, the teeth next to a missing tooth may drift into the space left by the missing tooth. Because these teeth occupy the space meant for another tooth, their permanent replacements will come in in the wrong position. The dentist may provide your child with a space maintainer if a primary tooth is lost too soon. But it is preferable to take early preventive measures so your child can keep all of her primary teeth until they are ready to be shed.

Hopefully by now you are convinced about the importance of your child's baby teeth. In the next section, we will show you how to care for your child's teeth.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Care for Baby Teeth

Excessive amounts of crying can be a sign that your baby's teeth are coming in.
Excessive amounts of crying can be a sign that your baby's teeth are coming in.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

You should begin checking your baby's mouth periodically even before the first tooth erupts. This gives you an idea of the normal appearance of your baby's mouth. Whining, crying, or drooling even more than usual may precede teething. Other common signs of teething are changes in feeding habits, trouble sleeping, and increased irritability.

If your baby's gums are red and swollen or if you can feel or see the tip of a tooth, teething probably is the cause of these changes in your baby's behavior. However, if your baby also has a fever or a rash or is vomiting, something else may be wrong.

Your baby will have a strong urge to chew at this time; you should give your baby a teething ring or frozen banana or frozen bagel. Babies vary in their need for other help. Check with your baby's doctor or your dentist before using any of the commercial preparations to ease teething discomfort. To help soothe your baby's gums, wipe a dampened gauze pad over them two or three times a day.

After your baby's teeth begin to appear, clean them daily with a dampened gauze pad or clean washcloth until your baby is big enough to begin using a toothbrush. When your baby is 1 1/2 to 2 years old, purchase a child-size toothbrush.

At least once a day -- preferably before bedtime -- you should brush your child's teeth. Several other times during the day -- preferably after meals -- let your child try to brush her own teeth; this will consist mainly of her chewing on the toothbrush. At this age, make no attempt to try to teach your child toothbrushing techniques. It is more important to establish a pattern of dental care, and even chewing on a toothbrush helps clean the teeth.

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Never give your baby a bottle of milk, juice, or a sweetened beverage when you put her to bed, and never put honey, syrup, or another sweetening agent on your baby's pacifier. These practices can cause severe destruction of your baby's teeth. Tooth decay, or nursing decay syndrome, can result from such practices.

When your baby sucks on a bottle when she is awake, the liquid is rapidly diluted with saliva and swallowed. However, if your baby falls asleep while nursing and swallows less often, the bacteria normally present in her mouth have time to turn the sugars in these liquids into acids that attack the tooth enamel. Sweetening agents on a pacifier also permit the sugars to remain in the mouth too long. The teeth most severely damaged are the upper incisors, and it has been necessary to remove teeth destroyed by this type of decay in children as young as 18 months old.

Other destructive practices are putting sugar in a piece of cloth and using this as a pacifier or using a piece of bread as a pacifier. The starches in the bread are quickly converted to sugars in the mouth, which can then serve as a food source for decay-causing bacteria.

Flouride

Fluoride combines with the enamel of the teeth and makes the teeth more resistant to decay. The use of fluoride can prevent an estimated two of every three potential cavities. Fluoride can be provided in drops that are swallowed, in a gel applied to the teeth, in a chewable form, in fluoride-vitamin combinations, and in toothpaste. But the most common source is the community water supply.

Because the enamel of some teeth forms in the fetus, it is important for the future health of your baby's teeth to obtain an adequate supply of fluoride. If you drink fluoridated water, you receive ample fluoride.

However, if you have a private water supply that is not fluoridated (such as your own well) or you drink bottled water, check with your dentist about another source of fluoride for you. If your baby is breast-fed or fed a premixed formula, he probably is not receiving enough fluoride and may need a fluoride supplement. Your doctor or dentist can tell you the best supplement to use.

If your drinking water is fluoridated, it is recommended that you not use additional fluoride supplements. Ingesting excess fluoride can cause permanent discoloration of the teeth.

Other Dental Problems

Dental decay is among the most common diseases affecting children, and it is the most preventable. To help prevent most caries (cavities) or catch decay at an early stage, feed your child a well-balanced diet low in sugars, provide fluoridated water or use fluoride supplements, teach her to brush after meals, and visit the dentist at recommended intervals. Caries in the primary teeth must be taken care of to relieve your child's pain and to help maintain the teeth until they are ready to be replaced by the permanent teeth.

Inflamed, bleeding gums are not normal but are a sign of dental problems. Even a young child can have gum disease, which needs the attention of a dentist. Untreated gum disease or dental decay in primary teeth can lead to infection or other problems that may affect the permanent teeth.

Young children exploring their world by crawling, toddling, and attempting to stand alone may fall or bump their teeth and mouths. Any mouth injury that results in excessive bleeding or a chipped, loose, or displaced tooth needs to be evaluated by a dentist. If a tooth is knocked out, put the tooth in a cup of water and take it and your child to the dentist as soon as possible.

Thumb sucking is a natural and satisfying behavior for babies and young children. Many parents worry that thumb sucking may damage the alignment of permanent teeth. But most children outgrow this activity by four or five years of age. It does not appear to affect permanent teeth when it occurs in young children and should not be a cause for concern.

No matter how well you take care of your child's teeth, you will have to take them to the dentist eventually. We will discuss taking your child to the dentist in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Taking a Child to a Dentist

Your child may be initially afraid of the dentist, just as children usually fear strangers.
Your child may be initially afraid of the dentist, just as children usually fear strangers.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

You should begin taking your child to the dentist no later than by the age of two years. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a visit by the time your child is one year of age.

Usually all the primary teeth have erupted by the time your child is between two and three years of age. Most children three years of age or younger have no or few dental problems, and the first visit to the dentist can consist primarily of an examination and probably a cleaning.

Your dentist is often the best resource for finding a dentist for your child. If you live in a small town or a rural area, your dentist probably will be your child's dentist also. However, many dentists, especially those in cities and large suburban areas, prefer not to see child patients. Instead, they refer you to a pediatric dentist, or pedodontist, a dentist who has specialized in taking care of children. If you have no dentist or are new to an area, check with the local dental society about which dentists in the area treat children.

Most children fear strangers, and the dentist initially is a stranger to your child. You can help your child to understand the dentist is another friend by your attitude as you approach the first and successive dental visits. If you are relaxed and matter-of-fact about going to the dentist, your child will be also.

However, if you begin to show signs of fear and tension (such as clutching your child's hand tightly), these fears will be transferred to your child. Avoid situations in which your child hears you or someone else talking about painful details of dental procedures. Your child will not require such procedures for many years, if ever; hearing about them can result in unnecessary fears and apprehension.

Also, never threaten your child with a visit to the dentist or any other health care professional. Be honest with your child if he asks about procedures or pain. Some procedures may be uncomfortable and your child needs to know this, but only if he asks ahead of time. If you are unsure of an answer, tell your child he can ask the dentist about it. Remember also that even painful procedures can be made painless with anesthesia; you or your dentist can tell your child this if he is concerned about pain.

Though your child's baby teeth will eventually fall out, it is important to take care of them until they grow out. Also, instilling good dental-care habits at a young age can encourage excellent oral hygiene as an adult.

To learn more information about caring for your child, visit the links on the next page.

Publications International, Ltd.

About the Consultant:

Alvin Eden, M.D.: Alvin Eden, M.D. serves as a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Weil Medical College of Cornell University in New York, New York. He is Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn. Dr. Eden is also the author of a number of child care book, including Positive Parenting and Growing Up Thin.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Related Articles