Your child’s baby teeth play an important role in the development of their oral health. In addition to helping your child chew, speak, and look good in family photos, baby teeth also act as a space holder in the jaw for adult teeth to develop. If your child loses their baby teeth at too young an age, it could cause crowding when adult teeth begin to form, which can lead to crooked teeth. By taking care of your child’s baby teeth, you can help ensure they enjoy a lifetime of strong teeth and healthy gums.
Signs of Decay
While many parents schedule routine checkups with their pediatrician, they often neglect to schedule visits for their child to see the family dentist. Parents may not realize that tooth decay can begin to affect their child’s baby teeth from the moment they begin to form. The American Dental Association recommends that children first visit the dentist by their first birthday, or shortly after their baby teeth begin to form, which ever happens first. Regular cleanings at an early age will allow your dentist to look for and treat any signs of tooth decay found in your child’s mouth.
Often referred to Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Childhood Carries, tooth decay in small children usually occurs to the upper front teeth, but can negatively affect all of your child’s teeth. When caught early, the affects of tooth decay can be corrected, but given enough time and the damage might be irreversible. Some extreme cases of Childhood Carries require the removal of a child’s teeth. Fortunately, parents can easily prevent cavities by practicing good oral hygiene with their child.
Preventing Tooth Decay
For young children, tooth decay begins after plaque, a cavity causing bacteria, is transferred from the mouth of a parent or caregiver to a child’s. Most often this transmission of bacteria occurs when a parent places something into their mouth prior to placing the object into their child’s mouth, such as when cleaning off a spoon used for feeding or a pacifier. Once the object enters a parent’s mouth, it becomes contaminated with harmful plaque that clings to the spoon or pacifier, allowing the bacteria to enter the child’s mouth when reused.
Parents who often lay their infants down with a bottle also increase the risk of their child developing tooth decay. Plaque begins to produce an acid that slowly eats away the your teeth’s enamel after you consume any food. By laying your child down with a bottle, you provide the plaque in your child’s mouth a never-ending supply of fuel to continue to produce tooth decay causing acids. Giving a fussy baby a pacifier coated with sugar or honey can also have this same affect on the health of your child’s teeth and gums.
To help fight tooth decay, parents should consider taking the following steps:
- Resist placing anything into your mouth prior to placing the object back into your child’s. This will help to reduce the amount of plaque in your child’s mouth, and lower their risk of developing tooth decay.
- Wipe your child’s gums with a clean, damp rag after each feeding. This will help clear away any small bits of food that might cling to your child’s gum and wash away plaque. Once your child begins to develop baby teeth, you should start to gently brush them with a child’s sized toothbrush. Don’t begin using toothpaste until your child has learned not to swallow during brushing.
- Parents should continue to brush their child’s teeth until they are able to tie their own shoes. Young children simply don’t have the motor coordination (and attention spans) to properly brush their own teeth.
- Avoid placing sweetened liquids, such as fruit juice or sodas, into your child’s bottle. Also, encourage your child to drink out of a regular cup, not a sippy cup, by their first birthday. Sippy cups make it easier for bacteria to pool around your child’s teeth when used for drinking.
If you have any questions about your child’s oral health, make sure to address them to any of the dentists at Laurelhurst Dentistry during your child’s next appointment.