Being a good dental patient with excellent oral hygiene begins at a young age. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child begin see the dentist by the age 1, or within six months after the eruption of the first tooth. Primary teeth typically begin to grow around 6 months of age, and all 20 baby teeth should appear in the mouth by the age of 2. Studies revealed that realistically parents weren’t bringing their children for their initial dental visit until approximately 2.5 years of age. I know what you’re thinking…one? What could the dentist possibly be doing or accomplishing with a one year old. Well, let me explain. The first dental visit is mostly for the parents. This visit is a great opportunity for parents to learn how to care for their children’s teeth and be able to ask questions.
In our office we not only consistently strive to create a positive dental experience with each visit, but especially the first one. This is because that first appointment is going to set the precedence or tone for the future visits for the rest of that patients life. It is beneficial for the child to start a relationship with a dentist at an early age because they are usually too young to be nervous or anxious and they quickly adjust to the routine. But there are many other things that you can do as a parent to insure a successful visit. For example, make sure your child is well rested before his/her visit, and plan time for your visit so you are not rushed so the child is relaxed. Another example is, going online, reading books, and even explaining the visit to your child before the visit.
As for at home you can start caring for your baby’s gums right away. As an infant you can get a soft, moistened washcloth or piece of gauze and gently wipe the gums at least twice a day especially after feedings and before bedtime. This will wash off the bacteria and prevent it from sticking to the gums. Bacteria can leave behind a sticky plaque that damages teeth as they come in.
When the first baby teeth start to erupt, you can begin to use a toothbrush. When choosing a toothbrush for your child, look for a soft brush with a small head and a large handle. Wet the toothbrush and brush gently all around the front and back of the teeth. At first, just wet the toothbrush. You can start using toothpaste in the amount of a grain of rice at age 2 and you can increase this to a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste when your child is age 3. Around age 2, your child should learn to spit while brushing. Once your baby’s teeth touch, you can begin flossing in between them.
When your child is between ages 4 and 6, expect your dentist to take a first set of X-rays to check for cavities that could be hiding between the teeth. Prevention is always the goal and catching decay early, between ages 6 and 12, when baby teeth give way to permanent teeth is extremely important.
Why do we fix cavities on baby teeth if they are just going to fall out anyways?
Among children who have never visited the dentist or who have not seen a dentist in the last 12 months, the most frequently mentioned reason (62%) was that “the child is too young” or “doesn’t have enough teeth yet.” Lack of insurance coverage was cited by 12% of the caregivers.
According to the AAPD, it is very important to keep primary (or “baby”) teeth in place until they are lost naturally. The primary teeth are important for many reasons including:
- Helping children chew properly to maintain good nutrition.
- Involvement in speech development.
- Helping save space for permanent teeth.
- Promoting a healthy smile that helps children feel good about the way they look.