February is National Children’s Dental Health month. The American Dental Association (ADA) has sponsored National Children’s Dental Health Month to raise awareness about the importance of oral health. Your child’s dental health is important from their very first baby tooth, to getting their permanent teeth. It is important to understand each stage and what you can do to ensure your child has great oral health throughout their growing years.
Parents often have the question, “When should my child have their first dental visit?”. This is an important question. However, some parents are misinformed about baby teeth. They think because their child will lose their baby teeth they don’t really have to worry about them. Baby teeth are important in your child’s early years and in their later years as well. Even though they are called “baby teeth”, they will have their primary teeth for many years. The front 4 primary teeth generally last until 6-7 years of age.
Important roles of your baby’s first teeth:
- Baby teeth help your baby chew. A cavity free mouth will help your child chew his food properly which will help him/her with their digestion.
- They help them learn to speak and smile. Teeth are important in learning to talk. If they lose teeth too early from cavities it can affect the proper development of their speech.
- Permanent teeth grow under the baby teeth.
Baby teeth hold space for the permanent teeth to grow into. This is a very important function of baby teeth. While the adult teeth are forming underneath the baby’s gums, the baby teeth keep space available so that the adult teeth can grow in normally. When a child loses a baby tooth too early, the permanent teeth can drift into the empty space and make it difficult for other adult teeth to find room when they come in. This can make teeth crooked or crowded.
- Baby teeth contribute to the normal development of the jaw muscles. Just like other muscles in the body, a baby’s jaw muscles need exercise to help them develop. Their primary teeth help with proper chewing and this helps to build these muscles. Without well-developed jaw muscles a baby’s jaw muscles may not develop properly.
When should you start brushing your baby’s teeth?
As soon as your baby’s first tooth appears you should start brushing their teeth. From the time the first tooth appears until the child is 3 years old you only need to use a very small amount of toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice). Brush twice per day or as directed by your dentist. You want to start off your baby with a soft toothbrush made for babies at least up until your child is two years old. You can also consult with your dentist when you should change the type of toothbrush you are using.
If your child is from 3 to 6 years of age, use a bit more toothpaste (about the size of a pea) and ensure you brush the teeth thoroughly twice a day. You want to supervise their brushing so you can make sure they are brushing thoroughly but also to make sure they do not swallow the toothpaste.
When your child has two teeth that touch you should begin flossing their teeth daily. Most dentists recommend doing this between the ages of 2 to 6. You can then start teaching them to do it on their own but you should still supervise them to make sure they do it thoroughly.
When should you take your child to see a dentist?
You should take your baby in to see a dentist after the first tooth comes in. Although the average age for the first baby tooth is 6 months, some infants don’t get their first tooth until they are 14 or 15 months old. It is recommended you schedule your child’s first visit no later than by the first birthday. A dental visit at an early age is a “well-baby checkup” for the teeth. The dentist can check for cavities and any other problems. Also the dentist can show you how to clean your child’s teeth properly.
Early care for a child means a great deal to their health. When exposed to a dentist at an early age, you ensure their first experiences are pleasant ones so they don’t build up fears about going and seeing the dentist in the older ages.
When should you take your child to see an orthodontist?
The American Association of Orthodontics recommends that children start being seen by an orthodontist by 7 years old to determine if and when they will need treatment. The first permanent molars and incisors usually come in by age seven. At this time we can see if crowding, cross-bites, or other problems will be an issue.
Visiting a kid’s orthodontist can:
- Eliminate abnormal swallowing or speech problems
- Guide jaw growth
- Correct thumb-sucking
- Guide incoming permanent teeth
- Avoid impacted permanent teeth
- Eliminate the need for permanent tooth extraction
- Regulate upper and lower arch-width
- Make space for permanent teeth
Our Orthodontic Wellness Program, or “OWLS” program, at McDonough Orthodontics consists of regular complimentary visits for our young patients. Our OWLS program is the beginning of a healthy, beautiful, and lifelong smile. This program is for children ages 7-12. So when your child’s permanent teeth start coming in you can schedule a complimentary exam with our children’s orthodontist.
Dr. David McDonough