A child's primary teeth, sometimes called "baby teeth," are as important as the permanent adult teeth. Primary teeth typically begin to appear when a baby is between age six months and one year. Primary teeth help children chew and speak. They also hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are developing under the gums. The ADA recommends that a dentist examine a child within six months of the eruption of the first tooth and no later than the first birthday. A dental visit at an early age is a "well baby checkup" for the teeth. Besides checking for tooth decay and other problems, the dentist can demonstrate how to clean the child's teeth properly and how to evaluate any adverse habits such as thumbsucking.
Taking Care of Your Child's Teeth
Taking good care of your child's teeth is important because even "baby" teeth help your child chew food and speak clearly. Baby teeth also hold space so permanent teeth can grow in straight. If you start your child off with good dental habits, your child will find it easier to keep those good habits forever.
How should I care for my child's teeth?
You should start caring for your child's gums and teeth at birth. Gently wipe your baby's gums with a soft, wet cloth after each feeding. When baby teeth appear, start cleaning them with a soft, child-sized toothbrush twice a day. In children up to 4 years of age, use a small, pea-sized dab of children's fluoride toothpaste. It is important to use a small amount of toothpaste so your baby does not swallow too much of it. Swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can cause spots on your child's teeth.
What is fluoride?
Fluoride helps make teeth strong and prevents tooth decay. If the water where you live does not have enough fluoride, your doctor may prescribe fluoride supplements (fluoride drops or pills). You would give these drops or pills every day, starting when your child is about 6 months old. Only give as much as the directions say to use, because too much fluoride can cause spots on your child's teeth.
When should I start taking my child to the dentist?
Take your child for a first dental visit within six months of the first baby tooth and by no later than the first birthday. This gives the dentist a chance to look for early tooth problems and to talk to you about how to care for your baby's teeth. It also helps your child feel okay in the dentist's office.
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What is "baby-bottle" tooth decay?
Babies who go to bed with a bottle of milk, formula or juice are more likely to get tooth decay. Because the sugar in formula, milk or juice stays in contact with the teeth for a long time during the night, the teeth can decay quickly.
Here are some tips to avoid baby-bottle tooth decay:
• Put your child to bed with a bottle of plain water, not milk or juice.
• Stop nursing when your child is asleep or has stopped sucking on the bottle.
• Try not to let your child walk around using a bottle of milk or juice as a pacifier.
• Start to teach your child to drink from a cup at about 6 months of age. Plan to stop using a bottle by 12 to 14 months at the latest.
• Don't dip your child's pacifier in honey or sugar.
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Teeth vary in size, shape and their location in the jaws. These differences enable teeth to work together to help you chew, speak and smile. They also help give your face its shape and form.
At birth people usually have 20 primary (baby) teeth, which often erupt about six months of age. They are then shed at various times throughout childhood. By age 21, all 32 of the permanent teeth have usually erupted.
When teeth come through the gums, it can make your baby cross. The gum may be swollen where the tooth is coming in. You can ease the pain by rubbing the gums gently with your finger, letting your child chew on a teething ring or using a pacifier.
How does diet affect my child's teeth?
Healthy eating habits lead to healthy teeth. Give your child a variety of foods. Sweets (candy or cookies), starchy foods (crackers) and sticky foods (raisins) stay in the mouth longer, so they can easily cause tooth decay. If your child wants a snack between meals, offer fruits or vegetables. They're better for growing teeth.
Is thumb-sucking bad for my child's teeth?
It is normal for children to suck their thumbs, their fingers or pacifiers. Most children give up this habit on their own by the time they are 4 years old and do no harm to their teeth. If your child still has a sucking habit after age 4, tell your dentist. Your dentist can watch for problems as the teeth grow. In most children, there is no reason to worry about a sucking habit until the child is 5 or 6 years old, when the permanent teeth start to come in.