Smiling Boy October is Dental Hygiene Month and a good time to take a look at how to help your children develop healthy habits when it comes to their teeth.

Your child starts with 20 “baby” teeth. The first set of teeth begins to fall out and make room for adult teeth sometime between the ages of 5 and 8. But baby teeth are just as important as permanent teeth, and they deserve equal care. Primary teeth act as “placeholders” for the adult set. If injury or decay changes the shape of primary teeth, it can affect the position of permanent teeth.

Caring for baby teeth

Tooth decay can develop as soon as the baby tooth arrives. Tooth decay can be painful and cause infections, which is why it is important to keep those tiny teeth clean and healthy.

  • As soon as that first tooth appears, use a soft-bristled baby toothbrush to gently clean the gums and teeth after each feeding. You can also use a soft washcloth.
  • Once you start seeing teeth come in, schedule a trip to a pediatric dentist. The dentist can give suggestions on how to clean your baby’s teeth and prevent tooth decay. He will inspect the shape and health of your baby’s mouth.
  • If your baby uses a bottle, don’t let him take it to bed. The breast milk or formula from the bottle usually collects on the back of the upper teeth, a less noticeable spot. Bacteria in the mouth convert the sugar in milk into acid that can begin to decay primary teeth. The same applies to cow’s milk when your child is 1 year or older and makes the switch.
  • To help prevent tooth decay, avoid filling your baby's bottle with juices and sodas because they are loaded with sugar. Besides sugar, sodas have caffeine, which is not good for your child.
  • Fruit snacks, lollipops and gummy candies are also one-way tickets to tooth decay. Give these infrequently or not at all.
  • Use chewable vitamins instead of the gummy variety. Your child may like the gummy vitamins better, but the sugars in those vitamins and the gooey texture could cause cavities.
  • When your child is a little older and the teeth are touching, it’s a good idea to teach her how to floss.

Schedule regular dental visits

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends most children have a dental checkup at least every six months. Some children will need even more frequent visits. A pediatric dentist will:

  • Clean your child’s teeth to remove any build-ups, including plaque and tartar.
  • Monitor your child’s tooth development and may suggest orthodontic treatment if teeth don’t emerge properly.
  • Suggest other treatment necessary for oral health such as fluoride treatments or sealants.
  • Keep an eye out for conditions that can increase plaque, making teeth more vulnerable to decay and gums more vulnerable to gum disease.

Contributed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD

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