Frequently Asked Questions
What is a pediatric dentist?
A pediatric dentist is someone who had an extra two or three years of specialized training after dental school, and is dedicated to the oral health of children from infancy through the adolescent years. The very young, pre-teens, and adolescents all need different approaches in dealing with their behavior guiding their dental growth and development, and helping them avoid future dental problems. The pediatric dentist is best qualified to meet these needs.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Maintaining the health of primary (baby) teeth is exceptionally important. Although baby teeth will eventually be replaced, they will fulfill several crucial functions in the meantime.
Baby teeth aid enunciation and speech production, help the child chew food correctly, maintain space in the jaw for adult teeth, and prevent the tongue from posturing abnormally in the mouth. When baby teeth are lost prematurely due to decay or trauma, adjacent teeth shift to fill the gap. This phenomenon can lead to impacted adult teeth, years of orthodontic treatment, and a poor esthetic result.
Babies are at risk for tooth decay as soon as the first primary tooth emerges-usually around the age of six months. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends a “well baby checkup” with a pediatric dentist around the age of twelve months.
What can I do at home to prevent baby bottle tooth decay?
Baby bottle tooth decay can be completely prevented by a committed parent. Making regular dental visits and following guidelines below will keep each child’s smile bright, and free of decay:
- Try not to transmit bacteria to your child via saliva exchanged. Rinse pacifiers and toys in clean water, and use a clean spoon for each person eating.
- Cleanse gums after every feeding with a clean washcloth.
- Use an appropriate toothbrush along with an ADA-approved toothpaste to brush when teeth begin to emerge. Fluoride-free toothpaste is recommended for children under the age of two.
- Use a pea-sized amount of ADA-approved fluorinated toothpaste when the child has mastered the art of “spitting out” excess toothpaste.
- Do not place sugary drinks in the baby bottle or sippy cups. Only fill these containers with water, breast milk, or formula. Encourage the child to use regular cup (rather than a sippy cup) when the child reaches 12 months old.
- Do not dip pacifiers in sweet liquids such as honey.
- Review your child’s eating habits. Eliminate sugar-filled snacks and encourage a healthy, nutritious diet.
- Do not allow the child to take a liquid-filled bottle to bed. If the child insists, fill the bottle with water as opposed to a sugary alternative.
- Clean your child’s teeth until he or she reaches the age of seven. Before this time, children are often unable to reach certain places in the mouth.
How does baby bottle tooth decay start?
Acid-producing bacteria in the oral cavity cause tooth decay. Initially, these bacteria may be transmitted from mother or father to baby through saliva. Every time parents share a spoon with the baby or attempt to cleanse a pacifier with their mouths, the parental bacteria invade the baby’s mouth.
The most prominent cause of baby bottle decay however, is frequent exposure to sweetened liquids. These liquids include breast milk, baby formula, juice, and sweetened water-almost any fluid a parent might fill a baby bottle with.
Especially when sweetened liquids are used as a naptime or nighttime drink, they remain in the mouth for an extended period of time. Oral bacteria feed on the sugar on and around the teeth and then emit harmful acids. These acids attack tooth enamel and wear it away. The result is painful cavities and pediatric tooth decay.
Infants who are not receiving an appropriate amount of fluoride are at an increased risk for tooth decay. Fluoride works to protect tooth enamel, simultaneously reducing mineral loss and promoting mineral uptake. Through a series of questionnaires and examinations, the pediatric dentist can determine whether a particular infant needs fluoride supplements or is at high-risk for baby bottle tooth decay.
What is bottle tooth decay?
The term “baby bottle tooth decay” refers to early childhood caries (cavities) which occur in infants and toddlers. Baby bottle tooth decay may affect any or all of the teeth, but is most prevalent in the front teeth on the upper jaw.
If baby bottle tooth decay becomes too severe, the pediatric dentist may be unable to save the affected tooth, in such cases, the damaged tooth/teeth is/are removed and a space maintainer is provided to prevent misalignment of the remaining teeth.
Scheduling regular checkups with a pediatric dentist and implementing a good homecare routine can completely prevent baby bottle tooth decay.
Care for your child’s teeth
Pediatric oral care has two main components: preventative care at the pediatric dentist’s office and preventative care at home. Though infant and toddler caries (cavities) and tooth decay have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, a good dental strategy will eradicate the risk of both.
The goal of preventative oral care is to evaluate and preserve the health of the child’s teeth. Beginning at the at the age of twelve months, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that children begin to visit the pediatric dentist for “well baby” checkups. In general, most children should continue to visit the dentist every six months, unless instructed otherwise.
How can a pediatric dentist care for my child’s teeth?
The pediatric dentist examines the teeth for signs of early decay, monitors orthodontic concerns, tracks jaw and tooth development, and provides a good resource for parents. In addition, the pediatric dentist has several tools at hand to further reduce the child’s risk for dental problems, such as topical fluoride and dental sealants.
During a routine visit to the dentist, the child’s mouth will be fully examined, the teeth will be professionally cleaned, topical fluoride may be coated onto the teeth to protect tooth enamel, and any parental concerns can be addressed. The pediatric dentist can demonstrate good brushing and flossing techniques, advise parents on dietary issues, provide strategies for thumb sucking and pacifier cessation, and communicate with the child on his or her level.
When permanent molars emerge (usually between the ages of six and seven) the pediatric dentist may coat them with dental sealant. This sealant covers the hard-to-reach fissures on the molars, sealing out bacteria, food particles, and acid. Dental sealant may last for many months or many years, depending on the oral habits of the child. Dental sealants provide an important tool in the fight against tooth decay.
How can I help at home?
Though most parents primarily think of brushing and flossing when they hear the words “oral care”, good preventative care includes many more factors, such as:
- Diet-Parents should provide children with a nourishing, well-balanced diet. Very sugary diets should be modified and continuous snacking should be discouraged. Oral bacteria ingest leftover sugar particles in the child’s mouth after each helping of food-emitting harmful acids that erode tooth enamel, gum tissue, and bone if left unchecked. Space out snacks when possible, and provide the child with non-sugary alternatives like celery sticks, carrot sticks, and low-fat yogurt.
- Oral habits- Though pacifier use and thumb sucking generally cease over time, both can cause the teeth to misalign. If the child must use a pacifier, choose an “orthodontically” correct model. This will minimize the risk of developmental problems like narrow roof arches and crowding. The pediatric dentist can suggest a strategy for thumb sucking cessation.
- General oral Hygiene-Sometimes, parents cleanse pacifiers and teething toys by sucking on them. Parents may also share eating utensils with the child. Harmful oral bacteria are transmitted from parent to child in these ways, increasing the risk of early cavities and tooth decay. Instead, rinse toys and pacifiers with warm water and avoid spoon-sharing whenever possible.
- Sippy cup use-Sippy cups are an excellent transitional aid for the baby bottle to adult drinking glass period. However, sippy cups filled with milk, breast milk, soda, juice, and sweetened water cause small amounts of sugary fluid to continually swill around young teeth-meaning continuous acid attacks on tooth enamel. Sippy cup use should be terminated between the ages of twelve and fourteen months-or whenever the child has the motor capacities to hold a drinking glass or cup.
- Brushing-Children’s teeth should be brushed a minimum of two times per day using a soft bristled brush and a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Parents should help with the brushing process until the child reaches the age of seven and is capable of reaching all areas of the mouth. Parents should always opt for ADA approved toothpaste (non-fluoridated before the age of two, and fluoridated thereafter). For babies, parents should rub the gum area with a clean cloth after each feeding.
- Flossing-Cavities and tooth decay form more easily between teeth. Therefore, the child is at risk for between-teeth cavities wherever two teeth grow adjacent to each other. The pediatric dentist can help demonstrate correct head positioning during the flossing process, and suggest tips for making flossing more fun!
- Fluoride-Fluoride helps prevent mineral loss and simultaneously promotes the remineralization of tooth enamel. Too much fluoride can result in fluorosis, a condition where white specks appear on the permanent teeth, and too little can result in tooth decay. It is important to get the fluoride balance correct. The pediatric dentist can evaluate how much fluoride the child is currently receiving and prescribe supplements if necessary.
Does your child grind his or her teeth at night?
Bruxism, or the grinding of teeth, is remarkably common in children and adults. For some children, the tooth grinding is limited to daytime hours, but nighttime grinding (during sleep) is most prevalent. Bruxism can lead to a wide range of dental problems, depending on the frequency of the behavior, the intensity of the grinding, and the underlying causes of the grinding.
A wide range of psychological, physiological, and physical factors may lead children to brux (grind). In particular, jaw misalignment (bad bite), stress, and traumatic brain injury are all thought to contribute to bruxism, although grinding can also occur as a side effect of certain medications.
What are some symptoms of bruxism?
In general, parents can usually hear intense grinding-especially when it occurs at nighttime. Subtle daytime jaw clenching and grinding, however, can be difficult to pinpoint. Oftentimes, general symptoms provide clues as to whether or not the child is bruxing, including:
- Frequent complaints of headache
- Injured teeth and gums
- Loud grinding or clicking sounds
- Rhythmic tightening or clenching of the jaw muscles
- Unusual complaints about painful jaw muscles-especially in the morning
- Unusual tooth sensitivity to hot and cold foods
How can bruxism damage my child’s teeth?
Bruxism is characterized by the grinding of the upper jaw against the lower jaw. Especially in cases where there is vigorous grinding, the child may experience moderate to severer jaw discomfort, headaches, and ear pain. Even if the child is completely unaware of nighttime grinding) and parents are unable to hear it), the condition of the teeth provides the pediatric dentist with important clues.
First, chronic grinders, usually show an excessive wear pattern on the teeth. If jaw misalignment is the cause, tooth enamel may be worn down in specific areas. In addition, children who brux are more susceptible to chipped teeth, facial pain, gum injury, and temperature sensitivity. In extreme cases, frequent, harsh grinding can lead to the early onset of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
What causes bruxism?
Bruxism can be caused by several different factors. Most commonly, “bad bite” or jaw misalignment promotes grinding. Pediatric dentists also notice that children tend to brux more frequently in response to life stressors. If the child is going through a particular stressful exam period or is relocating to a new school for example, nighttime bruxing may either begin or intensify.
Children with certain developmental disorders and brain injuries may be at particular risk for grinding. In such cases, the pediatric dentist may suggest botulism injections to calm the facial muscles, or provide a protective nighttime mouthpiece. If the onset of bruxing is sudden, current medications need to be evaluated. Though bruxing is a rare side effect of specific mediations, the medication itself my need to be switched for an alternate brand.
How is bruxism treated?
Bruxing spontaneously ceases by the age of thirteen in the majority of children. In the meantime, however, the pediatric dentist will continually monitor its effect on the child’s teeth and may provide an interventional strategy.
In general, the cause of the grinding dictates the treatment approach. If the child’s teeth are badly misaligned, the pediatric dentist may take steps to correct this. Some of the available options include: altering the biting surfaces of the teeth with crowns, and beginning occlusal treatment.
If bruxing seems to be exacerbated by stress, the pediatric dentist may recommend relaxation classes, professional therapy, or special exercises. The child’s pediatrician may also provide muscle relaxants to alleviate jaw clenching and reduce jaw spasms.
In cases where young teeth are sustaining significant damage, the pediatric dentist may suggest a specialized nighttime dental appliance such as a nighttime mouth guard. Mouth guards stop tooth surfaces from grinding against each other, and look similar to a mouthpiece a person might wear during sports. Bit splints, or bit plates, fulfill the same function, and are almost universally successful in preventing grinding damage.
Eruption of your child’s teeth
The eruption of primary teeth (also known as deciduous or baby teeth) follows a similar developmental timeline for most children. A full set of primary teeth begins to grow beneath the gums during the fourth month of pregnancy. For this reason, a nourishing prenatal diet is of paramount importance to the infant’s teeth, gums and bones.
Generally, the first primary tooth breaks through the gums between the ages of six months and one year. By the age of three years old most children have a “full” set of twenty primary teeth. The American Dental Association (ADA) encourages parents to make a “well baby” appointment with a pediatric dentist approximately six months after the first tooth emerges. Pediatric dentists communicate with parents and children about prevention strategies, emphasizing the importance of a sound, “no tears” daily home care plan.
Although primary teeth are deciduous, they facilitate speech production, proper jaw development, good chewing habits and the proper spacing and alignment of adult teeth. Caring properly for primary teeth helps defend against painful tooth decay, premature tooth loss, malnutrition, and childhood periodontal disease.
When will my baby start getting teeth?
The initial growth period for primary (baby) teeth begins in the second trimester of pregnancy (around 16-20 weeks). During this time, it is especially important for expectant mothers to eat a healthy, nutritious diet, since nutrients are needed for bone and soft tissue development.
Though there are some individual differences in the timing of tooth eruption, primary teeth usually begin to emerge when the infant is between six and eight months old. Altogether, a set of twenty primary teeth will emerge by the age of three.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends a first “well baby” dental visit around the age of twelve months (or six months after the first tooth emerges). This visit acquaints the infant with the dental office, allows the pediatric dentist to monitor development, and provides a great opportunity for parents to ask questions.
In what order do primary teeth emerge?
As a general rule-of-thumb, the first teeth to emerge are the central incisors (very front teeth) on the lower and upper jaws (6-12 months). These (and any other primary teeth) can be cleaned gently with a soft, clean cloth to reduce the risk of bacterial infection. The central incisors are the first teeth to be lost, usually between 6 and 7 years of age.
Next, the lateral incisors (immediately adjacent to the central incisors) emerge on the upper and lower jaws (9-16 months). These teeth are lost next, usually between 7 and 8 years of age. First molars, the large flat teeth towards the rear of the mouth then emerge on the upper and lower jaws (13-19 months) The eruption of molars can be painful. Clean fingers, cool gauze, and teething rings are all useful in soothing discomfort and soreness. First molars are generally lost between 9 and 11 years of age.
Canine (cuspid) teeth then tend to emerge on the upper and lower jaws (16-23 months). Canine teeth can be found next to the lateral incisors, and are lost during preadolescence (10-12 years old). Finally, second molars complete the primary set on the lower and upper jaw (23-33 months). Second molars can be found at the very back of the mouth, and are lost between the ages of 10 and 12 years old.
Which teeth emerge first?
In general, teeth emerge in pairs, starting at the front of the infant’s mouth. Between the ages of six and ten months, the two lower central incisors break through. Remember that cavities may develop between two adjacent teeth, so flossing should begin at this point.
Next (and sometimes simultaneously) the two upper central incisors emerge-usually between the ages of eight and twelve months. Teeth can be quite an uncomfortable process for the infant. Clean teething rings and cold damp cloths can help ease the irritation and discomfort.
Between the ages of nine and sixteen months the upper lateral incisors emerge-one on either side of the central incisors. Around the same time, the lower lateral incisors emerge, meaning that the infant has four adjacent teeth on the lower and upper arches. Pediatric dentists suggest that sippy cup usage should end when the toddler reaches the age of fourteen months. This minimizes the risk of baby bottle tooth decay”.
Eight more teeth break through between the ages of thirteen and twenty-three months. On each arch, a cuspid or canine tooth will appear immediately adjacent to each lateral incisor. Immediately behind (looking toward the back of the child’s mouth), first molars will emerge on either side of the canine teeth on both jaws.
Finally, a second set of molars emerges on each arch-usually beginning on the lower arch. Most children have a complete set of twenty primary teeth before the age of thirty-three months.
Fluorine, a natural element in the fluoride compound, has proven to be effective in minimizing childhood cavities and tooth decay. Fluoride is a key ingredient in many popular brands of toothpaste, oral gel, and mouthwash and can also be found in most community water supplies. Though fluoride is an important part of any good oral care routine, overconsumption can result in a condition known as fluorosis. The pediatric dentist is able to monitor fluoride levels, and check that children are receiving the appropriate amount.
How can fluoride prevent tooth decay?
Fluoride fulfills two important dental functions. First, it helps to staunch mineral loss from tooth enamel, and second, it promotes the remineralization of tooth enamel.
When carbohydrates (sugars) are consumed, oral bacteria feed on them and produce harmful acids. These acids attack tooth enamel especially in children who take medications or produce less saliva. Repeated acid attacks result in cavities, tooth decay, and childhood periodontal disease. Fluoride protects tooth enamel from acid attacks and reduces the risk of childhood tooth decay.
Fluoride is especially effective when used as part of a good oral hygiene regimen. Reducing the consumption of sugary foods, brushing and flossing regularly, and visiting the pediatric dentist twice a year, all supplement the work of fluoride and keep young teeth healthy.
How much fluoride is enough?
Since community water supplies and toothpastes usually contain fluoride, it is essential that children do not ingest too much. For this reason, children under the age of two should use an ADA-approved, non-fluoridated brand of toothpaste. Children between the ages of two and five years old should use a pea-sized amount of the ADA-approved fluoridated toothpaste on a clean toothbrush twice each day. They should be encouraged to spit out any extra fluid after brushing. This part may take time, encouragement, and practice.
The amount of fluoride children ingests between the ages of one and four years old, determines whether or not fluorosis will occur later. The most common symptom of fluorosis is white specks on the permanent teeth. Children over the age of eight years old are not considered to be at-risk for fluorosis, but should still use an ADA-approved brand of toothpaste.
Does my child need fluoride supplements?
The pediatric dentist is the best person to decide whether a child needs fluoride supplements. First, the dentist will ask questions in order to determine how much fluoride the child is currently receiving, gain a general health history, and evaluate the sugar content in the child’s diet. If a child is not receiving enough fluoride and is determined to be at high risk for tooth decay, an at-home fluoride supplement may be recommended.
Topical fluoride can also be applied to the tooth enamel quickly and painlessly during a regular office visit. There are many convenient forms of topical fluoride, including foam, liquids, varnishes and gels. Depending on the age of the child and their willingness to cooperate, topical fluoride can either be held on the teeth for several minutes in specialized trays or painted on with a brush.
A child’s general level of health often dictates his or her oral health, and vice versa. Therefore, supplying children with a well-balanced diet is more likely to lead to healthier teeth and gums. A good diet provides the child with the many different nutrients he or she needs to grow. These nutrients are necessary for gum tissue development, strong bones, and to protect the child against certain illnesses.
According to the food pyramid, children need vegetables, fruits, meat, grains, beans and dairy products to grow properly. These different food groups should be eaten in balance for optimal results.
How does my child’s diet affect his or her teeth?
Almost every snack contains at least one type of sugar. Most often, parents are tempted to throw away candy and chocolate snacks without realizing that many fruit snacks also contain one (if not several) types of sugar or carbohydrates. When sugar-rich snacks are eaten, the sugar content attracts oral bacteria. The bacteria feast on food remnants left on or around the teeth. Eventually, feasting bacteria produce enamel-attacking acids.
When tooth enamel is constantly exposed to acid, it begins to erode resulting in childhood tooth decay. If tooth decay is left untreated for prolonged periods, acids begin to attack the soft tissue (gums) and even the underlying jawbone. Eventually, the teeth become prematurely loose, fall out, or get infected causing problems for emerging adult teeth-a condition known as childhood periodontal disease.
Regular checkups and cleanings at the pediatric dentist’s office are an important line of defense against tooth decay. However, implementing food dietary habits and minimizing sugary food and drink intake (especially soda or carbonated drinks) as part of the home care routing are equally important.
How can I alter my child’s diet?
The pediatric dentist is able to offer advice and dietary counseling for children and parents. Most often, parents are advised to opt for healthier snacks, for example, carrot sticks, reduced fat yogurt, and cottage cheese. In addition, pediatric dentists may recommend a fluoride supplement to protect tooth enamel-especially if the child lives in an area where fluoride is not routinely added to community water.
Parents should also ensure that children are not continuously snacking-even in a healthy manner. Lots of snacking means that sugars are constantly attaching themselves to teeth, and tooth enamel is constantly under attack. It is also impractical to try to clean the teeth after every snack if “every snack” means every ten minutes!
Finally, parents are advised to opt for faster snacks. Mints and hard candies remain in the mouth for a long period of time-meaning that sugar is coating the teeth for longer. If candy is necessary, opt for a sugar-free variety that can be eaten quickly.
Should my child eat starch-rich foods?
It is important for the child to eat a balanced diet, so some carbohydrates and starches are necessary. Starch-rich foods generally include pretzels, chips, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Since starches and carbohydrates break down to form sugar, it is best that they are eaten as part of a meal (when saliva production is higher), than as a standalone snack. Provide plenty of water at mealtimes (rather than soda) to help the child rinse sugary food particles off the teeth.
As a final dietary note, avoid feeding your child sticky foods if possible. It is incredibly difficult to remove stickiness from the teeth, especially in younger children who tend not to be as patient during brushing.
How often should children have dental checkups?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) advise parents to make biannual appointments for children, beginning approximately six months after the first tooth emerges.
These two important yearly visits allow the pediatric dentist to monitor new developments in the child’s mouth, evaluate changes in the condition of teeth and gums, and continue to advise parents on good oral care strategies.
The pediatric dentist may schedule additional visits for children who are particular susceptible to tooth decay or who show early signs of orthodontic problems.
What is the purpose of dental checkups?
First, the pediatric dentist aims to provide a “good dental home” for the child. If a dental emergency does arise, parents can take the child for treatment at a familiar, comfortable location.
Second, the pediatric dentist keeps meticulous records of the child’s ongoing dental health and jaw development. In general, painful dental conditions do not arise overnight. If the pediatric dentist understands the child’s dental health history, it becomes easier to anticipate future issues and intervene before they arise.
Third, the pediatric dentist is able to educate parents and children during the visit. Sometimes the pediatric dentist wants to introduce one of several factors to enhance tooth health-for example, sealants, fluoride supplements, or xylitol. Other time, the pediatric dentist asks parents to change the child’s dietary or oral behavior-for example, reducing sugar in the child’s diet, removing an intraoral piercing, or even transiting the child from sippy cups to adult sized drinking glasses.
Finally, dental radiographs (X-rays) are often the only way to identify tiny cavities in primary (baby) teeth. Though the child may not be feeling any pain, left unchecked, these tiny cavities can rapidly turn into large cavities, tooth decay and eventually abscessed teeth. Dental radiographs are only used when the pediatric dentist suspects cavities or orthodontic irregularities.
Are checkups necessary if my child has healthy teeth?
The condition of a child’s teeth can change fairly rapidly. Even if the child’s teeth were evaluated as healthy just six months’ prior, changes in diet or oral habits (for example, thumb sucking) can quickly render them vulnerable to decay or misalignment.
In addition to visual examinations, the pediatric dentist provides thorough dental cleanings during each visit. These cleanings eradicate the plaque and debris that can build up between teeth and in other hard to reach places. Though a good homecare routine is especially important, these professional cleanings provide an additional tool to keep smiles healthy.
The pediatric dentist is also able to monitor the child’s fluoride levels during routine visits. Oftentimes, a topical fluoride gel or varnish is applied to teeth after the cleaning. Topical fluoride demineralizes the teeth and staunches mineral loss, protecting tooth enamel from oral acid attacks. Some children are also given take-home fluoride supplements (especially those residing in areas where fluoride is not routinely added to the community water supply).
Finally, the pediatric dentist may apply dental sealants to the child’s back teeth (molars). This impenetrable liquid plastic substance is brushed onto the molars to seal out harmful debris, bacteria and acid.
How to prevent cavities
Childhood cavities, also known as childhood tooth decay and childhood caries, are common all over the world. There are two main causes of cavities: poor dental hygiene (or the lack thereof) and sugary diets.
Cavities can be incredibly painful, often leading to tooth decay and childhood periodontitis if left untreated. Ensuring that children at a balanced diet, embarking on a sound home oral care routine, and visiting the pediatric dentist biannually, are all crucial factors for both cavity prevention and excellent oral health.
What causes cavities?
Cavities form when children’s teeth are exposed to sugary foods on a regular basis. Sugars and carbohydrates (like the ones found in white bread) collect on and around the teeth after eating. A sticky film (plaque) then forms on the tooth enamel. The oral bacteria within the plaque continually ingest sugar particles and emit acids. Initially, the acid attacks the tooth enamel, weaking it and leaving it vulnerable to tooth decay. If conditions are allowed to worsen, the acid begins to penetrate the tooth enamel and erodes the inner workings of the tooth.
Although primary (baby) teeth are eventually lost, they fulfill several important functions and should be protected. It is essential that children brush and floss twice per day (ideally more), and visit the dentist for biannual cleanings. Sometimes the pediatric dentist coats teeth with sealants and provides fluoride supplements to further bolster the mouth’s defenses.
How will I know if my child has a cavity?
Large cavities can be excruciatingly painful, whereas tiny cavities may not be felt at all. Making matters even trickier, cavities sometimes form between the teeth, making them invisible to the naked eye. Dental X-rays and the dentist’s trained eyes help pinpoint even the tiniest of cavities so they can be treated before they worsen.
Some of the major symptoms of cavities include:
- Heightened sensitivity to cool and warm foods
- Nighttime waking and crying
- Sensitivity to spicy foods
If a child is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to visit the pediatric dentist. Failure to do so will make the problem worse, leave the child in pain, and could possibly jeopardize a tooth that could have been treated.
How can I prevent cavities at home?
Biannual visits with the pediatric dentist are only part of the battle against cavities. Here are some helpful guidelines for cavity prevention:
- Analyze the diet-too many sugary or starchy snacks can expedite cavity formation. Replace sugary snacks like candy with natural food where possible, and similarly replace soda with water.
- Cut the snacks-Snacking too frequently can unnecessarily expose teeth to sugars. Save the sugar and starch for mealtimes, when the child is producing more saliva, and drinking water. Make sure they consume enough water to cleanse the teeth.
- Lose the sippy cup-Sippy cups are thought to cause ‘baby bottle tooth decay” when they are used beyond the intended age (approximately twelve months). The small amount of liquid emitted with each sip causes sugary liquid to continually swill around the teeth.
- Avoid Stickiness-Sticky foods (like gummy bears) form plaque quickly, and are extremely difficult to pry off the teeth. Avoid them when possible.
- Rinse the pacifier-Oral bacteria can be transmitted from mother or father to baby. Rinse a dirty pacifier with running water as opposed to sucking on it, to avoid contaminating the baby’s mouth.
- Drinks at bedtime-Breast feeding or sending a child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup is bad news. The milk, formula, juice or sweetened water basically sits on the teeth all night, attacking enamel and maximizing the risk of cavities. Ensure the child has a last drink before bedtime, and then brush the teeth.
- Don’t sweeten the pacifier-Parents sometimes dip pacifiers in honey to calm a cranky child. Don’t be tempted to do this. Use a blanket, toy, or hug to calm the child instead.
- Brush and floss-Parents should brush and floss their child’s teeth twice each day until the child reaches the age of seven years old. Before this time, children struggle to brush every area of the mouth effectively.
- Check on fluoride-When used correctly, fluoride can strengthen tooth enamel and help stave off cavities. Too much or too little fluoride can actually harm the teeth, so ask the pediatric dentist for fluoride supplements.
- Keep regular appointments-The child’s first dental visit should be scheduled around his or her first birthday, as per the America Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) guidelines. Keep to a regular appointment schedule to create healthy smiles!
How can I reduce the risk of early caries (cavities)?
Primary teeth preserve space for permanent teeth and guide their later alignment. In addition, primary teeth help with speech production, prevent the tongue from posturing abnormally, and play an important role in the chewing of food. For these reasons, it is critically important to learn how to care for the child’s emerging teeth.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Brush twice each day-The AAPD recommends a pea-sized amount of ADA approved, non-fluoridated, toothpaste for children under two years old, and the same amount of an ADA approved, fluoridated toothpaste for children over this age. The toothbrush should be soft-bristled and appropriate for infants.
- Start flossing-Flossing an infant’s teeth can be difficult but the process should begin when two adjacent teeth emerge.
- Provide a balanced diet-Sugars and starches feed oral bacteria, which produce harmful acids and attack tooth enamel. Ensure that the child is eating a balanced diet and work to reduce sugary and starchy snacks.
- Set a good example-Children who see parents brushing and flossing are often more likely to follow suit. Explain the importance of good oral care to the child; age-appropriate books often help with this.
- Visit the dentist-The pediatric dentist monitors oral development, provides professional cleaning, applies topical fluoride to the teeth, and coats molars with sealants. Biannual trips to the dental office can help to prevent a wide range of painful conditions later.
Mouth guards, also known as sports guard or athletic mouth protectors, are crucial pieces for any child participating in potentially injurious recreational or sporting activities. Fitting snugly over the upper teeth, mouth guards protect the entire oral region from traumatic injury, preserving both the esthetic appearance and the health of the smile. In addition, mouth guards are sometimes used to prevent tooth damage in children who grind (brux) their teeth at night.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) in particular, advocates for the use of dental mouth guards during any sporting or recreational activity. Most store-bought mouth guards cost fewer than ten dollars, making them a perfect investment for every parent.
How can mouth guards protect my child?
The majority of sporting organization now require that participants routinely wear mouth guards. Though mouth guards are primarily designed to protect the teeth, they can also vastly reduce the degree of force transmitted from a trauma impact point (jaw) to the central nervous system (base of the brain). In this way, mouth guards help minimize the risk of traumatic brain injury, which is especially important for younger children.
Mouth guards also reduced the prevalence of the following injuries:
- Cheek lesion
- Gum and soft tissue injuries
- Jawbone fractures
- Lip lesions
- Neck injuries
- Tongue lesions
- Tooth fractures
What type of mouth guard should I purchase for my child?
Though there are literally thousands of mouth guards, most brands fall into three major categories: Stock mouth guards, boil and bite mouth guards, and customized mouth guards.
Some points to consider when choosing a mouth guard include:
- How much money is available to spend?
- How often does the child play sports?
- What kind of sport does the child play? (Basketball and baseball tend to cause the most oral injuries)
In light of these points, here is an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of mouth guard.
Stock mouth guards-These mouth guards can usually be bought directly off the shelf and immediately fitted into the child’s mouth. The fit is universal (one-size-fits-all), meaning that the mouth guard doesn’t adjust. Stock mouth guards are very cheap, easy to fit, and quick to locate at the sporting goods stores. Pediatric dentists favor this type of mouth guard least, as it provides minimal protection, obstructs proper breathing and speaking, and tends to be uncomfortable.
Boil and bite mouth guards-These mouth guards are usually made from thermoplastic and are easily located at most sporting goods stores. First, the thermoplastic must be immersed in hot water to make it pliable, and then it must be pressed on the child’s teeth to create a custom mold. Boil and bite mouth guards are slightly more expensive than stock mouth guards, but tend to offer more protection, feel more comfortable in the mouth, and allow for easy speech production and breathing.
Customized mouth guards-these mouth guards offer the greatest degree of protection, and are custom-made by the dentist. First, the dentist makes an impression of the child’s teeth using special material, and then the mouth guard is constructed over the mold. Customized mouth guards are more expensive and take longer to fit, but are more comfortable, orthodontically correct, and full approved by the dentist.
Pacifier and thumb sucking
For most infants, the sucking of thumbs and pacifiers Is a happy, everyday part of life. Since sucking is a natural instinctual baby habit, infants derive a sense of comfort, relaxation, and security from using a thumb or pacifier as a sucking aid.
According to the research from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), the vast majority of children will cease using a pacifier before the age of four years old. Thumb sucking can be a harder habit break and tends to persist for longer without intervention. Children who continue to suck thumbs or pacifiers after the age of five (and particularly those who continue after permanent teeth begin to emerge) are at high-risk for developing dental complications.
How can thumb sucking and pacifier use damage children’s teeth?
Pacifier and thumb sucking damage can be quite insidious. Both can be difficult to assess with the naked eye, and both tend to occur over a prolonged period of time. Below is an overview of some of the risks associated with prolonged thumb sucking and pacifier use:
Jaw misalignment-Pacifiers come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, most of which are completely unnatural for the mouth to hold. Over time, pacifiers and thumbs can guild the developing jaws out of the correct alignment.
Tooth decay-Many parents attempt to soothe infants by dipping pacifiers in honey, or some other sugary substance. Oral bacteria feed on sugar and emit harmful acids. The acids attack tooth enamel and can lead to pediatric tooth decay and childhood caries.
Roof narrowing-The structures in the mouth are extremely pliable during childhood. Prolonged repeated exposure to thumb and pacifier sucking actually cause the roof of the mouth to narrow (as if molding around the sucking device). This can cause later problems with developing teeth.
Protruding teeth-Growing teeth can be caused to slant or protrude by thumb and pacifier sucking, leading to poor esthetic results. In addition, thumb sucking and pacifier use in later childhood increases the need for extensive orthodontic treatments.
Mouth sores-Passive sucking is much less harmful than aggressive sucking. Aggressive sucking (popping sounds when the child sucks) may cause sores or ulcers to develop.
If you do intend to purchase a pacifier:
- Buy a one-piece pacifier to reduce the risk of choking
- Buy an “orthodontically correct” model
- Do not dip it in honey or any other sugary liquid
- Rinse with water (as opposed cleansing with your mouth) to prevent bacterial transmissions
How can I encourage my child to stop thumb or pacifier sucking?
In most cases, children naturally relinquish the pacifier or thumb over time as children grow, they develop new ways to self-soothe, relax, and entertain themselves. When thumb sucking or pacifier use persists past the age of five, a gentle intervention may be required.
Here are some helpful suggestions to help encourage the child to cease thumb sucking or pacifier use:
- Ask the pediatric dentist to speak with the child about stopping. Often, the message is heard more clearly when delivered by a health professional.
- Buy an ADA recommended specialized dental appliance to make it difficult for the child to engage in sucking behaviors.
- Implement a reward system (not a punishment) whereby the child can earn tokens or points toward a desirable reward for not thumb sucking or using a pacifier.
- Wrap thumbs in soft clothes, socks or mittens at nighttime.
If the above suggestions do not seem to be working, your pediatric dentist can provide more guidance. Remember, the breaking of a habit takes time, patience, and plenty of encouragement!
Pediatric Dental Appliances
Though many parents think of “teenagers” when presented with the term “dental appliances”, the use of such appliances in young children is very common. Some dental appliances may be recommended for preventative purpose, while others may be recommended for treatment purposes.
It can be extremely difficult to encourage young children to wear removable dental appliances regularly, but there is some good news. Pediatric dental appliances can prevent injury to the teeth and may also reduce (or even eliminate) the need for extensive treatment later.
What types of pediatric dental appliances are most common?
There are many types of pediatric dental appliances-each one fulfilling a different dental function. The major categories of pediatric dental appliances are described below:
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and American Dental Association (ADA) recommend that children wear mouth guards when engaging in any potentially injurious activity, including sporting and recreational endeavors.
The pediatric dentist can craft a customized mouth guard for the child, or thermoplastic “boil and bite” mouth guard can be purchased at a sporting goods store. Similar mouth guards are used for children who “brux” or grind their teeth at night.
Sometimes, primary (baby) teeth are lost prematurely due to trauma or decay. Adjacent teeth tend to shift to fill the space, causing spacing and alignment problems for permanent (adult) teeth. Space maintainers or “spacers” are inserted as placeholders until the permanent teeth are ready to erup6. There are two main types of space maintainer:
- Fixed space maintainers-Depending on the position of the missing tooth and the condition of the surrounding teeth, the pediatric dentist may adhere a “band or loop”, a “crown and loop”, or a “distal shoe” type of spacer to fill the empty gap. All spacers fulfill the same function; just the nature of the attachment to the adjacent teeth differs. Fixed spacers are usually made of metal and are highly durable. If a highly visible tooth is missing, an acrylic button may be added to reduce the esthetic impact.
- Removable space maintainers-Removable spacers are rarely used with young children. Working a little like orthodontic retainers, special plastic parts fit into the empty slot to prevent “drifting” of adjacent teeth.
Thumb Sucking Appliances
The majority of children naturally outgrow their thumb-sucking habit. However, children who continue to thumb suck after the age of five or six (especially vigorously) risk oral complications. These complications include: narrowed arches, impacted teeth, and misaligned teeth. The “palatal crib” appliance usually stops thumb sucking immediately.
The “crib” is crafted and affixed to the teeth by the pediatric dentist, almost like a barely visible set of dental brackets. Preventing the thumb from reaching the roof of the mouth reduces gratification-and breaks the habit very quickly. Removable variations of the “crib” are also available, and can be used depending on the age of the child and his or her willingness to cooperate.
Perinatal and Infant Oral Health
Pregnancy is an exciting time. It is also a crucially important time for the unborn child’s oral and overall health. The “perinatal” period begins approximately 20-28 weeks into the pregnancy and ends 1-4 week after the infant is born. With so much to do to prepare for the new arrival, a dental checkup is often the last thing on an expectant mother’s mind.
Research shows, however, that there are links between maternal periodontal disease (gum disease) and premature babies, babies with low birth weight, maternal preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. It is of importance, therefore, for mothers to maintain excellent oral health throughout the entire pregnancy.
Why are perinatal dental checkups important?
Maternal cariogenic bacteria are linked with a wide range of adverse outcomes for infants and young children. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) advises expectant mothers to get dental checkups and counseling regularly, for the purosed of prevention, intervention, and treatment.
Here are some perinatal oral care tips for expectant mothers:
Brush and Floss-Be sure to use an ADA approved, fluoridated toothpaste at least twice each day, and floss at least once each day, to eliminate harmful oral bacteria. In addition, an alcohol-free mouthwash should be used on a daily basis.
Chew Gum-Xylitol, a natural substance, has been shown to reduce infant and toddler carries (cavities) when chewed 3-5 times daily by the expectant mother. When choosing gum, check for the “xylitol” ingredient-no other sugar substitute has proven to be beneficial in clinical studies.
Diet evaluation-Maintaining a balanced, nourishing diet is always important, but particularly so during pregnancy. Make a food eating diary and look for ways to cut down on sugary and starchy foods. Sugars and starches provide food for oral bacteria, and also increase the risk of tooth decay.
Make regular dental appointments-When seen regularly, the dentist can bolster homecare preventative efforts and provide excellent advice. The dentist is able to check the general condition of teeth and provide strategies for reducing oral bacteria.
How can I care for my infant’s gums and teeth?
Many parents do not realize that cavity-causing (cariogenic) bacteria can be transmitted from the mother or father to the child. This transmission happens via the sharing of eating utensils and the “cleaning” of pacifiers in the parent’s mouth. Parents should endeavor to use different eating utensils from their infants and to rinse pacifiers with warm water as opposed to sucking them.
Parents should also adhere to the following guidelines to enhance infant oral health:
- Brush-Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a tiny sliver of ADA approved non-fluoridated toothpaste (for children under two), gently brush the teeth twice each day.
- Floss-As soon as two adjacent teeth appear in the infant’s mouth, cavities can form between the teeth. Ask the pediatric dentist for advice on the best way to floss the infant’s teeth.
- Pacifier use-Pacifiers are a soothing tool for infants. If you decide to purchase a pacifier, choose an orthodntically correct model. Be sure not to dip pacifiers in honey or any other sweet liquid.
- Use drinking glasses-Baby bottles and sippy cups are largely responsible for infant and toddler tooth decay. Both permit a small amount of liquid to repeatedly enter the mouth. Consequently, sugary liquid (milk, soda, juice, formula, breast milk or sweetened water) is constantly swilling around the infant’s mouth, fostering bacterial growth and expediting tooth decay. Only offer water in sippy cups, and discontinue their use after the infant’s first birthday.
- Visit the pediatric dentist-Around the age of one, the infant should visit a pediatric dentist for a “well baby” appointment. The pediatric dentist will examine tooth and jaw development, and provide strategies for future oral care.
- Wipe gums-the infant is at risk for early cavities as soon as the first tooth emerges. For young infants, wipe the gums with a damp cloth after every feeding. This reduces oral bacteria and minimizes the risk of early cavities.
Sealing out tooth decay
Tooth decay has become increasingly prevalent in preschoolers. Not only is a tooth decay unpleasant and painful, it can also lead to more seous problems like premature tooth loss and childhood periodontal disease.
Dental sealants are an important tool in preventing childhood caries (cavities) and tooth decay. Especially when used in combination with other preventative measures, like biannual checkups and an excellent daily home care routine, sealants can bolster the mouth’s natural defenses, and keep smiles healthy.
How do sealants protect children’s teeth?
In general, dental sealants are used to protect molars from oral bacteria and harmful oral acids. These larger, flatter teeth reside toward the back of the mouth and can be difficult to clean. Molars make the site of four out of the five instances of tooth decay. Decay-causing bacteria often inhabit the nooks and crannies (pits and fissures) found on the chewing surfaces of the molars. These areas are extremely difficult to access with a regular toothbrush.
If the pediatric dentist evaluates a child to be at high risk for tooth decay, he or she may choose to coat additional teeth (for example, bicuspid teeth), The sealant acts as a barrier, ensuring that food particles and oral bacteria cannot access vulnerable tooth enamel.
Dental sealants do not enhance the health of the teeth directly, and should not be used as substitute or fluoride supplements (if the dentist has recommended them) or general oral care. In general, however, sealants are less costly, less uncomfortable and more esthetically pleasing than metal fillings.
How are sealants applied?
Though there are many different types of dental sealants, most are comprised of liquid plastic. Initially, the pediatric dentist must thoroughly clean and prepare the molars, before painting sealant on the targeted teeth. Some sealants are bright pink when wet and clear when dry. This bright pink coloring enables the dentist to see that all pits and fissures have been thoroughly coated.
When every targeted tooth is coated to the dentist’s satisfaction, the sealant is either left to self-harden or exposed to blue spectrum natural light for several seconds (depending on the chemical composition of the specific brand). This specialized light works to harden the sealant and cure the plastic. The final result is a clear or whitish layer of thin, hard, durable sealant.
It should be noted that the “sealing” procedure is easily completed in one office visit, and is entirely painless.
When should sealants be applied?
Sealants are usually applied when the primary (baby) molars first emerge. Depending on the oral habits of the child, the sealants may last for the life of the primary tooth, or need replacing several times. Essentially, sealants durability depends on the oral habits of the individual child.
Pediatric dentists recommend that permanent molars be sealed as soon as they emerge, typically around the age of six or seven. In some cases, sealant can be applied before the permanent molar is fully erupted.
The health of the sealant must be monitored at biannual appointments. If the seal begins to lift off, food particles may become trapped against the tooth enamel, actually causing tooth decay.
What is pulp therapy?
The “pulp” of a tooth cannot be seen with the naked eye. Pulp is found at the center of each tooth, and is comprised of nerves, tissue, and many blood vessels, which work to channel vital nutrients and oxygen. There are several ways in which pulp can be damaged. Most commonly in children, tooth decay or traumatic injury lead to painful pulp exposure and inflammation.
Pediatric pulp therapy is known by several other names, including: root canal, pulpotomy, and nerve treatment. The primary goal of pulp therapy is to treat, restore and save the affected tooth.
Pediatric dentists perform pulp therapy on both primary (baby)teeth and permanent teeth. Though primary teeth are eventually shed, they are needed for speech production, proper chewing and to guide the alignment and spacing of permanent teeth.
What are the signs of pulp injury and infection?
Inflamed or inured pulp is exceptionally painful. Even if the source of the pain isn’t visible, it will quickly become obvious that the child needs to see the pediatric dentist.
Here are some of the other signs to look for:
- Constant unexplained pain
- Nighttime pain
- Sensitivity to warm and cool food temperatures
- Swelling or redness around the affected tooth
- Unexplained looseness or mobility of the affected tooth
When should a child undergo pulp therapy?
Every situation is unique. The pediatric dentist assesses the age of the child, the positioning of the tooth, and the general health of the child before making a recommendation to extract the tooth or to save it via pulp therapy.
Some of the undesirable consequences of prematurely extracted/missing teeth are listed below:
- Arch length may shorten
- In the case of primary tooth loss, permanent teeth may lack sufficient space to emerge
- Opposing teeth may grow in a protruding or undesirable way
- Premolars may become painfully impacted
- Remaining teeth may “move” to fill the gap
- The tongue may posture abnormally
How is pulp therapy performed?
Initially, the pediatric dentist will perform visual examinations and evaluate X-rays of the affected areas. The amount and location of pulp damage dictates the nature of the treatment. Although there are several other treatments available, the pediatric pulpotomy and pulpectomy procedures are among the most common performed.
Pulpotomy-If the pulp root remains unaffected by injury or decay, meaning that the problem is isolated in the pulp tip, the pediatric dentist may leave the healthy part alone and only remove the affected pulp and surrounding tooth decay. The resulting gap is then filled with a biocompatible, therapeutic material, which prevents infection and soothes the pulp root. Most commonly, a crown is placed on the tooth after treatment. The crown strengthens the tooth structure minimizing the risk of future fractures.
Pulpotomy treatment is extremely versatile. It can be performed as a stand-alone treatment on baby teeth and growing permanent teeth, or as the initial setup in a full root canal treatment.
Pulpectomy-In the case of severe tooth decay or trauma, the entire tooth pulp (including the root canals) may be affected. In these circumstances, the pediatric dentist must remove the pulp, cleanse the root canals, and then pack the area with biocompatible material. This usually takes several office visits.
In general, reabsorbable material is used to fill primary teeth, and non-reabsorbable material is used to fill permanent teeth. Either way, the final treatment step is to place a crown on the tooth to add strength and provide structural support. The crown may come in a stainless steel form (silver) or a natural-colored (white) form.
Why brush primary teeth?
The importance of maintain the health of primary (baby) teeth is often understated. Primary teeth are essential for speck production, chewing, jaw development, and they also facilitate the proper alignment and spacing of permanent adult teeth. Brushing primary teeth prevents bad breath and tooth decay, and also removes the plaque bacteria associated with childhood periodontal disease.
What differences are there among toothpaste brands?
Though all toothpastes are not created equal, most brands generally contain abrasive ingredients to remove stains, soapy ingredients to eliminate plaque, fluorides to strengthen tooth enamel, and some type of pleasant-tasting flavoring.
The major differences between brands are the thickness of the paste, the level of fluoride content, and the type of flavoring. Although fluoride strengthens enamel and repels plaque bacteria, too much of it can actually harm young teeth-a condition known as dental fluorosis. Children between the ages of one and four years old are most at risk for this condition, so fluoride levels should be carefully monitored during this time.
Be aware that adult and non-ADA approved brands of toothpaste often contain harsher abrasives, which remove tooth enamel and weaken primary teeth. In addition, some popular tooth paste brands contain sodium lauryl sulfate (shown as “SLS” on the package), which cause painful mouth ulcers in some children.
So which toothpaste brand should I choose?
The most important consideration to make before implementing an oral care plan and choosing a toothpaste brand is the age of the child. Home oral care should begin before the emergence of the first tooth. A cool clean cloth should be gently rubbed along the gums after feeding to remove food particles and bacteria.
Prior to the age of two, the child will have many teeth and brushing should begin. Initially, select fluoride-free “baby” toothpaste and softly brush the teeth twice per day. Flavoring is largely unimportant, so the child can play an integral role in choosing whatever type of toothpaste tastes most pleasant.
Between the middle and the end of the third year, select an American Dental Association (ADA) accepted brand of toothpaste containing fluoride. The ADA logo is clear and present on toothpaste packaging, so be sure to check for it. Use only a tiny or rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, and encourage the child to spit out the excess after brushing. Eliminating the toothpaste takes practice, patience, and motivation-especially if the child finds the flavoring tasty. If the child does ingest tiny amounts of toothpaste, don’t worry, this is perfectly normal and will cease with time and encouragement.
Dental fluoride is not a risk factor for children over the age of eight, but an ADA accepted toothpaste is always the recommended choice for children of any age.
First Dental Visit
What potential dental problems can babies experience?
A baby is at risk for tooth decay as soon as the first tooth emerges. During the first visit, the pediatric dentist will help parents implement a prevatitve strategy to protect the teeth from harm, and also demonstrate how infant teeth should be brushed and flossed.
In particular, infants who drink breast milk, juice, baby formula, soda, or sweetened water from a baby bottle or sippy cup are at high-risk for early childhood caries (cavities) To counteract this threat, the pediatric dentist discourages parents from sippy cups with sugary fluids, dipping pacifiers in honey, and transmitting oral bacteria to the child via shared spoons and/or cleaning pacifiers in their own mouths.
Importantly, the pediatric dentist can also assess and balance the infant’s fluoride intake. Too much fluoride ingestion between the ages of one and four years old may lead to a condition known as fluorosis in later childhood. Conversely, too little fluoride may render young tooth enamel susceptible to tooth decay.
When should children have their first dental visit?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) suggest that parents should make an initial “well baby” appointment with a pediatric dentist approximately six months after the emergence of the first tooth, or no later than the child’s first birthday.
Although this may seem surprisingly early, the incidence of infant and toddler tooth decay has been rising in recent years. Tooth decay and early cavities can be exceptionally painful if they are not attended to immediately, and can also set the scene for poor oral health in later childhood.
The pediatric dentist is a specialist in child psychology and child behavior, and should be viewed as an important source of information, help and guidance. Oftentimes, the pediatric dentist can provide strategies for eliminating unwanted oral habits (or example, pacifier use and thumb sucking) and can also help parents in establishing a sound daily oral routine for the child.
What happens during the first visit?
Pediatric dentists have fun-filled stimulating dental offices. All dental personnel are fully trained to communicate with infants and young children.
During the initial visit, the pediatric dentist will advise parents to implement a good oral care routine, ask questions about the child’s oral habits, and examine the child’s emerging teeth. The pediatric dentist and parent sit knee-to-knee for this examination to enable the child to view the parent at all times. If the infant’s teeth appear stained, the dentist may clean them. Oftentimes, a topical fluoride treatment will be applied to the teeth after this cleaning.
What questions may the pediatric dentist ask during the first visit?
The pediatric dentist will ask questions about current oral care, diet, the general health of the child, the child’s oral habits, and the child’s current fluoride intake.
Once answers to these questions have been established, the pediatric dentist can advise parents on the following issues:
- Accident prevention
- Adding xylitol and fluoride to the infant’s diet
- Choosing an ADA approved, non-fluoridated brand of toothpaste for the infant
- Choosing an appropriate toothbrush
- Choosing an orthodontically correct pacifier
- Correct positioning of the head during tooth brushing
- Easing the transition from sippy cup to adult-sized drinking glasses (12-14 months)
- Eliminating fussing during the oral care routine
- Establishing a drink-free bedtime routine
- Maintaining good dietary habits
- Minimizing the risk of tooth decay
- Reducing sugar and carbohydrate intake
- Teething and development milestones
Do you allow parents to come back with their children?
We invite you to stay with your child during the initial examination. This gives you the opportunity to see our team in action and allows the dentist to discuss dental findings and treatment needs directly with you.
During future appointments, we encourage children over five years of age to come back to the treatment area by themselves as this builds autonomy and trust. Older children who are very apprehensive may look for an “escape” by going to their parents. Our purpose is to gain your child’s confidence and overcome apprehension. Expect your child to do well and enjoy their visit to our office and chances are they will do just that. For the safety and privacy of all patients, other children who are not being treated should remain in the reception room with a supervising adult.
Why are primary teeth important?
Primary teeth, also known as “baby teeth” or “deciduous teeth” begin to develop beneath the gums during the second trimester of pregnancy. Teeth begin to emerge above the gums approximately six months to one year after birth. Typically, preschool children have a complete set of 20 baby teeth-including four molars on each arch.
One of the most common misconceptions about primary teeth is that they are irrelevant to the child’s future oral health. However, their importance is emphasized by the American Dental Association (ADA) which urges parents to schedule a “baby checkup” with a pediatric dentist within six months of the first tooth emergence.
What are the functions of primary teeth?
Primary teeth can be painful to acquire. To soothe tender gums, biting on chewing rings, wet gauze pads, and clean fingers can be helpful. Though most three-year-old children have a complete set of primary teeth, eruption happens gradually-usually starting at the front of the mouth.
The major functions of primary teeth are described below:
Special production and development-Learning to speak clearly is crucial for cognitive, social, and emotional development. The proper positioning of primary teeth facilitates correct syllable pronunciation and prevents the tongue from straying during speech formation.
Eating and nutrition-Children with malformed or severely decayed primary teeth are more likely to experience dietary deficiencies, malnourishments, and to be underweight. Proper chewing motions are acquired over time and with extensive practice. Healthy primary teeth promote good chewing habits and facilitate nutritious eating.
Self-confidence-Even very young children can be quick to point out ugly teeth and crooked smiles. Taking good care of primary teeth can make social interactions more pleasant, reduce the risk of bad breath, and promote confident smiles and positive social interactions.
Straighter smiles-One of the major functions of primary teeth is to hold an appropriate amount of space for developing adult teeth. In addition, these spacers facilitate the proper alignment of adult teeth and also promote jaw development. Left untreated, missing primary teeth cause the remaining teeth to “shift” and fill spaces improperly. For this reason, pediatric dentists often recommend space-maintaining devices.
Excellent oral health-Badly decayed primary teeth can promote the onset of childhood periodontal disease. As a result of this condition, oral bacteria invade and erode gums, ligaments, and eventually for emerging permanent teeth. To avoid periodontal disease, children should practice an adult-guided oral care routine each day and infant gums should be rubbed gently with a clean, damp cloth after meals.
What else is known about primary teeth?
Though each child is unique, baby girls generally have a head start on baby boys when it comes to primary tooth eruption. Lower teeth usually erupt before opposing upper teeth in both sexes.
Teeth usually erupt in pairs-meaning that there may be months with no new activity and months where two or more teeth emerge at once. Due to smaller jaw size, primary teeth are smaller than permanent teeth, and appear to have a whiter tone. Finally, an interesting mixture of primary and permanent teeth is the norm for most school-age children.
Tongue piercing - is it really cool?
You might not be surprised anymore to see people with pierced tongues, lips or cheeks, but you might be surprised to know just how dangerous these piercings can be.
There are many risks involved with oral piercings, including chipped or cracked teeth, blood clots, blood poinsing, heart infections, brain abscess, nerve disorders (trigeminal neuralgia), receding gums or scar tissue. Your mouth contains millions of bacteria, and infection is a common complication of oral piercing. Your tongue could swell large enough to close off your airway!
Common symptoms after piercing include pain, swelling, infection, an increased flow of saliva and injuries to gum tissue. Difficult-to-control bleeding or nerve damage can result if a blood vessel or nerve bundle is in the path of the needle.
So follow the advice of the American Dental Association and give your mouth a break-skip the mouth jewelry.