Keeping Your Young Child’s Teeth Healthy

Studio shot of smiling girl lying down on shag carpet

Good dental care begins even before baby’s first tooth appears. Remember that just because you can’t see the teeth doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Teeth actually begin to form in the second trimester of pregnancy. At birth, your baby has 20 primary teeth, some of which are fully developed in the jaw.

Cleaning baby’s teeth

Running a damp washcloth over your baby’s gums following feedings can prevent build-up of damaging bacteria. Once your child has a few teeth showing, you can brush them with a soft child’s toothbrush or rub them with gauze at the end of the day.

Beware of Bottle Mouth!

Even babies can have problems with dental decay when parents do not practice good feeding habits. Putting a baby to sleep with a bottle in his or her mouth may be convenient in the short term—but it can harm the baby’s teeth.When the sugars from juice or milk remain on a baby’s teeth for hours, they may eat away at the enamel, creating a condition known as bottle mouth. Pocked, pitted, or discolored front teeth are signs of bottle mouth. Severe cases can result in cavities and consequently, extensive dental work under general anaesthetic to remove affected teeth. Parents and caregivers should help young kids set specific times for drinking each day because sucking on a bottle throughout the day can be equally damaging to young teeth.

First visit to the dentist

The Ontario Dental Association recommends that a child’s first visit to the dentist should occur by the age of one year or when the first teeth have erupted. At this visit, the dentist will explain proper brushing and flossing techniques (you need to floss once your baby has two teeth that touch) and conduct a simple exam while your baby sits on your lap. Such visits can help in the early detection of potential problems, and help kids become accustomed to visiting the dentist so they’ll have less fear about going as they grow older.

Prevent orthodontic problems

An early orthodontic evaluation can give parents the heads-up on potential impending orthodontic problems which can sometimes be prevented if diagnosed early enough.

X-rays

Regular x-rays are essential for children whose teeth have come in and are in contact with each other. Cavities that start on tooth surfaces are best detected this way. By the time these cavities can be seen with regular vision, they are typically very large and at that point, often require root canal treatment or even removal. Decay in “baby teeth” spreads very quickly so the consequences of not having a proper dental check-up can be serious, while x-rays are very safe and present no danger to a child.

Mother holding son

Mother holding son

Develop good habits

The preschool years are the ideal time for your toddler to develop good dental habits, which should include:

  • eating from a variety of food groups and limiting sugary foods and drinks
  • brushing teeth after eating sugary or sticky foods like raisins
  • rinsing mouth or drinking water after eating to clean teeth when brushing is not possible
  • a toothbrush change every few months or immediately after an illness. Never share a toothbrush.

Steven Deskin is a Brantford Dentist in general practice.

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