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Early Childhood Teeth Care: The Basics

Much confusion surrounds the issue of how to help young children achieve good dental care. Because we know that those early teeth are going to fall out after a couple of years, many parents assume that early childhood dental care is not a priority and that kids do not need the kind of brushing routine that adults have. But on the contrary, there are some very good health-related reasons to pay close attention to your child’s dental care from a very early age, and it is never too early to begin instilling good habits.

Very early dental care
What many people do not realize is that babies do have teeth. In fact, the teeth develop during the second trimester of pregnancy, and they are more or less fully formed at birth. Of course, the teeth are still hidden beneath the gums at this point, but if you look closely at your child’s gums, you will see they are pitted and ridged, partly due to the presence of the teeth underneath.

Even before the teeth start coming through—which typically begins at around six months of age—the rough surfaces of your child’s gums need to be cleaned, especially after feeding. Otherwise, bacteria can build up and eventually lead to gum problems. You do not need to do much, however. Simply wiping the gums with a damp washcloth after feeding is usually sufficient.

When the teeth start coming through, keep them clean by brushing them with a soft child’s toothbrush at least twice a day. Where there are no teeth yet showing, continue to wash the gums at the end of the day with a damp washcloth. Meanwhile, now is a good time to get out of the habit of allowing your child to go to sleep with a bottle in her mouth. The lingering milk or juice can wear away at the tooth enamel, eventually leading to a condition known as bottle mouth, which is associated with cavities and the necessity for teeth pulling.

Starting dentist visits
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children get their first dental check-up within the first year of life, preferably between the emergence of the first teeth and the first birthday. This may come as a surprise to many parents, and indeed the recommendation is not borne out in practice, as many children do not get their first dental appointment until they are two or three years old.

But there are some good reasons to start early. Pediatric dentists are trained at catching issues that may potentially become problematic later on, and they can help ensure that your early dental care is on track and in line with modern recommendations. So, in other words, starting with early dental preventative care is a good way to prevent problems later on.

From this point, it is a good idea to bring your child in for a dentist visit every six months or so. Keep in mind that young children tend to grow fast, so potential mouth and jaw issues can develop rapidly. So if you want to ensure that your child does not need braces or other treatments later on, keep up these regular visits.

Training good dental care
Once your child is old enough to start brushing his or her own teeth, the fun begins. It is crucial to instill good habits at this age, as studies have shown that good early dental care translates into good lifelong dental health. So once your child is old enough to grasp the concept of brushing teeth, start encouraging her to take matters into her own hands. She should brush at least twice daily, for at least 30 seconds at a time. Until she gets the hang of it, use very small amounts of toothpaste to prevent her from swallowing too much.

Meanwhile, it is also a good idea to teach your child the importance of avoiding foods that lead to tooth decays. Candy and other sweets might be okay in moderation, but when consumed habitually, they contribute to accelerated tooth decay and cavities. Teach your child that good dental health is good for her all around health, and that it prevents bad breath and promotes a good appearance.

Some kids take to the habit quite well, while other seem naturally predisposed to forget or to rush through their dental care routine. That is why it is a good idea to supervise your child’s dental care early on, and to make sure he or she brushes during a time when there are not going to be other distractions.

Childhood teeth care.

By Lisa Pecos

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