Your kid’s teeth

Is my child at risk for early childhood tooth decay?

The average healthy adult visits the dentist twice a year. The average healthy 2-year-old has never been to the dentist. By kindergarten, 25 percent of children have never seen a dentist, yet dental decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease in America.
The culprit? A combination of misinformation about when a child should first visit the dentist, when a parent should start caring for a child’s teeth and the frequent and long-term exposure of sugary liquids to a child’s teeth.

A child should first visit the dentist six months after the eruption of the first tooth. During this first exam, the dentist can teach parents the best way to guard against early childhood tooth decay by wiping down the teeth with a damp cloth after every feeding and remind parents to limit sugary beverages.

Frequent and long-term exposure of a child’s teeth to sugary liquids is commonly called baby bottle tooth decay. Most parents are aware of baby bottle tooth decay but may not know that the long-term and regular consumption of sugary liquids in a bottle or cup puts children’s growing teeth at increased risk for decay.

“Unsweetened fruit juices, teas and water are always best for children to help promote oral and overall health,” says Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Cindi Sherwood, DDS.

Fruit juice causes tooth decay if children are allowed to hold a bottle, cup or box of juice in their mouth through the day.

“If left untreated, baby bottle tooth decay can result in pain and infection,” says Dr. Sherwood. “Baby teeth are important because they hold the place for permanent teeth and help guide them into correct position. Severely decayed teeth may need to be extracted, which could effect the development of permanent teeth, speech and chewing.”

Caring for children’s teeth beginning in infancy promotes good oral health care habits for a lifetime and increases the chances of a child maintaining healthy permanent teeth.

Tips for parents to decrease the risk of early childhood tooth decay

  • Wean a child from the bottle or breast by age 1.
  • Use spill-proof cups as a transitional step in the development of children, not a long-term solution.
  • Don’t allow children to use spill-proof cups throughout the day. Save spill-proof cups for snack and mealtimes when increased salivary activity helps clean teeth.
  • Drink sugary beverages through a straw. The best spill-proof cups to protect against decay are those with collapsible rubber straws.
  • Introduce oral health care habits early. Wipe baby’s gums with a damp cloth after every feeding. Introduce brushing with a soft-bristle brush and water when the first tooth appears. Parents can add a pea-sized dab of fluoridated toothpaste to the toothbrush by age 2.
    Source: Academy of General Dentistry

Stop pacifying preschoolers

If your child’s heading to preschool this year and is still using a pacifier, now’s the time to work with your child to drop the “binkey.”

Thousands of parents rely on pacifiers to calm and soothe a fussy baby. For children under the age of 1, the continuous sucking action is normal and healthy.

However, if parents allow children to continue using a pacifier into toddler years, this action becomes habit instead of a natural instinct and can be detrimental to a child’s oral health.
“Prolonged pacifier use can impede the natural development of teeth, the jaw and normal palate formation,” says Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Julie Ann Barna, DMD, MAGD. “For a child with several baby teeth, pacifier use can cause upper teeth to protrude and lower teeth to jut in.”

In addition to moving and shifting teeth, studies show that pacifier users are more likely to suffer from acute middle ear infections. “Continuous sucking on a pacifier causes the auditory tubes to open abnormally, allowing secretions from the throat to seep into the middle ear,” says Dr. Barna. “This makes the ears more susceptible to infection-causing bacteria.”

Researchers have found no physiological reason why children should be allowed a pacifier past the age of 1, and report a trend that many prolonged pacifier users become prolonged thumb suckers after the pacifier is taken away, adding to a child’s risk of damaging the natural position of the teeth.

For the health and proper development of your child, Dr. Barna agrees that parents should drop the pacifier by the child’s first birthday and recommends “trading-in” the pacifier for “sippy cups,” which promote the development of hand-eye coordination and help break the sucking habit.
Source: Academy of General Dentistry

What can relieve my child’s discomfort during teething?

Between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, your child may experience sore gums and general oral discomfort as primary teeth erupt. While some lucky children experience no apparent discomfort during eruption, many others do. Signs that eruption is causing discomfort in your child include crankiness, lack of appetite, excessive drooling, restless behavior, pink or red cheeks, coughing, upset stomach and chewing or sucking of fingers and toys. There are ways you can bring your child relief. A cold, wet cloth for your baby to suck on can sooth gums. There are also teething accessories and toys your child can chew on to relieve discomfort. Thumb sucking also brings relief, however, dentists recommend this practice should cease upon the arrival of the first permanent teeth, so it does not interfere with the normal development of a child’s oral cavity.
Source: Academy of General Dentistry

Should loose primary teeth be pulled?

Losing primary teeth before they are ready to fall out can affect the proper positioning of the permanent teeth. If a baby tooth is lost too early, other teeth may tip or fill in the vacant space, forcing permanent teeth to come in crooked. If a baby tooth is knocked out, see your dentist, who may recommend a space maintainer to reserve the gap until the permanent tooth comes in. In instances where a primary tooth is loose because of the emergence of a permanent tooth, have the child wiggle the tooth or eat something hard, such as an apple, to help it along. Once the shell of the tooth is disconnected from the root, the discomfort in extracting a loose primary tooth is minimal.
Source: Academy of General Dentistry

Dental care during pregnancy

It is of upmost importance that you take care of yourself during pregnancy.  Periodontitis/Gum disease could potentially affect your developing baby, lowering preterm birth rates.

Baby Teeth and Teething

Baby teeth usually appear when your baby is 6 months – 1 year old.

Why do Babies Teethe?
  • When babies are teething, they may become fussy, sleepless and irritable, lose their appetite or drool more than usual. Diarrhea, rashes and a fever are not normal for a teething baby. If your baby has a fever or diarrhea while teething or continues to be cranky and uncomfortable, call your doctor.
  • Babies may get sore or tender gums when their teeth cut their gums. Gently rubbing your child’s gums with a clean finger, a small, cool spoon or a wet gauze pad can soothe them. A clean teething ring may also help.
  • When baby teeth break through the gums, brush the teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a little water to prevent tooth decay. Fluoride toothpaste is not recommended until a child reaches age 2.
  • Ages 2 and up: help young children brush their teeth and teach them to spit out the fluoride toothpaste. They shouldn’t swallow it.
  • Begin regular dental checkups no later than your child’s first birthday for “smile” insurance.
    Source: Ontario Dental Association
Thumb sucking and pacifiers

Sucking is natural for babies. Whether it’s their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects, sucking helps babies feel secure and happy. Young children may also suck to soothe themselves. Since thumb sucking is relaxing, it may help them fall asleep.

When should it stop?

Usually kids stop thumb sucking between 2 – 4 years old, or by the time the adult front teeth are ready to break through their gums.

After your kid’s permanent adult teeth come in, sucking may cause problems with the proper growth of their mouth and teeth alignment. Vigorous thumb sucking may also cause problems with baby teeth. If you notice changes in your kid’s baby teeth, please talk to your dentist.

Using pacifiers at a later age can be as much of a problem as sucking fingers and thumbs, but it’s usually an easier habit to break.

Tips to stop thumb sucking
  • Praise your kids for not sucking their thumbs. Don’t scold them for sucking them.
  • Children often suck their thumbs when they feel insecure or need comfort. Focus on why your child is anxious and comfort your child.
  • For older kids, involve them in choosing how to stop. Your dentist can offer encouragement to your kids and explain what might happen to their teeth if they don’t stop sucking their thumbs.
  • If these tips don’t work, remind your child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night.
  • Your dentist or doctor may prescribe a bitter medication to coat the thumb or the use of a mouth appliance.

Source: Ontario Dental Association