When Should You Take Your Baby For A First Visit to the Dentist?
If you have a new baby at home – or know someone who does – did you realize that a dentist should examine a child within six months after their first tooth comes in and no later than the child’s first birthday? A whopping 97% of parents were unaware of the first-year, first-visit recommendation, according to a 2010 AAPD survey.
Primary teeth, or “baby teeth,” are as important as permanent adult teeth. Primary teeth typically begin to appear when a baby is between age 6 months and 1 year. Primary teeth help children chew and speak. They also hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are growing under the gums.
On a child’s first visit to a dentist, the dentist can show you how to clean the child’s teeth properly and how to evaluate any adverse habits such as thumb sucking. But there are other compelling reasons for early checkups. Tooth decay is a leading chronic childhood disease, more common than asthma, and it’s almost entirely preventable according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Teething is Tough
Most children have a full set of 20 primary teeth by the time they are 3. When they first come in some babies may have sore or tender gums. The process as each tooth emerges is called “teething.” It can be a trying time for you and your baby.
Slightly higher than normal temperature
Teething is uncomfortable. That’s why your baby cries and fusses in the days or weeks before each baby tooth pops up. You can start caring for baby’s gums right away. But at first, the care won’t involve a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Gently rub your child’s gums with:
A clean finger
A small cool spoon
A wet gauze pad
A clean teething ring to chew on can also ease the discomfort as well. Avoid giving your child anything that is small enough to choke on. Avoid a teething ring with liquid inside that could break open.
DO NOT give your baby topical pain relievers. Not only does saliva quickly wash the medication away, but the FDA warns against dangerous, potentially life-threatening side effects caused by such products.
NEVER give your child aspirin. If your child is unusually irritable or inconsolable, call your pediatrician and ask if you can give your baby Tylenol (acetaminophen) occasionally to relieve pain first.
In addition to caring for baby teeth, you need to protect them. To prevent cavities, only fill your baby’s bottle with:
Avoid giving your child fruit juices, sodas, and other sugary drinks. Sweet drinks, even container milk can settle on the teeth. This can lead to baby tooth decay – also known as “baby bottle tooth decay.” Bacteria feed on the sugar from sweet drinks and produce acid, which attacks baby’s teeth.
If you have to send your baby to bed or naps with a bottle or sippy cup, fill it with water only. Also avoid putting anything sweet, such as sugar or honey, on your baby’s pacifier.
When the first baby teeth start to pop up, you can graduate to a toothbrush. Choose one with a:
At first, just wet the toothbrush. As soon as teeth erupt, you can start using a bit of toothpaste about the size of a grain of rice. You can increase this to a pea sized amount when your child is 3 years old. Brush gently all around your child’s baby teeth, front and back.
You should brush your baby’s teeth until he or she is old enough to hold the brush. Continue to supervise the process until your child can rinse and spit without assistance. That usually happens at around age 6.
Keep on the lookout for any signs of baby tooth decay, brown or white spots or pits on the teeth. If you or your pediatrician notices any problems, take your child to a pediatric dentist for an exam.
Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may suck on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects. It may help them relax or make them feel safe or happy. Most children stop sucking by age 4. If your child continues to thumb suck after the permanent teeth have come in, it can cause problems with tooth alignment and your child’s bite. The frequency, duration and intensity of a habit will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.
Your baby needs help to establish a solid oral health foundation. See your dentist early and talk to them about how to care for your child’s primary teeth.
Sources: MouthHealthy.org, CNN, WebMD