By Dr. Eli Prenzlau
Your child’s teeth are important for their health and well-being. Without healthy teeth, your child wouldn’t be able to chew or speak properly! Although some people might downplay the importance of baby teeth since they will eventually fall out , the truth is, these teeth are crucial—not only for your child’s current health and comfort, but also to hold adequate spaces for the permanent teeth that will grow in their place.
Baby teeth normally emerge between 6 to 10 months of age, though they may come in earlier. The telltale signs of a teething baby are fussiness, excessive drooling, as well as vigorous chewing, which helps relieve any discomfort the baby might be feeling. There are many teething toys available that are safe for a baby to chew on. I recommend the hard and solid types. If your baby is really in pain, consider a safe dose of children’s Tylenol, but steer clear of any topical products that contain benzocaine. The latest update from the FDA states that these products can make your baby sick, and therefore should not be used to reduce pain during teething.
When is the best time to start brushing children’s teeth? Before the teeth emerge, consider wiping the child’s gums with a clean, damp washcloth or gauze pad after feedings. Then, when the first tooth appears, the parents should brush the child’s teeth twice a day, with a soft child-sized brush, using no more than a smear of toothpaste—the size of a grain of rice. Children older than three years of age can use a drop of toothpaste about the size of a pea.
Older children will be able to handle tooth brushing on their own, but should be taught by their parents, and then monitored, both to observe their technique, and to make sure they use the right amount of toothpaste, spit out as much as possible, and not ingest too much toothpaste.
Fluoride is a chemical that keeps the outer layer of the teeth strong. There are multiple ways to help your children receive an adequate amount of fluoride. One way is to use fluoridated toothpaste when brushing. Another way is by drinking fluoridated water. Your dentist can help you find out if the water in your area is fluoridated. If it isn’t, your dentist may recommend fluoride tablets or drops to help your child get the most benefit from fluoride.
Sealants are highly recommended once the first permanent teeth emerge. These are usually the child’s 6 year molars. A dentist can apply these bonded sealants directly to the grooves of the child’s teeth, which will help prevent deeper cavities from forming in the future.
Sugary Snacks and Drinks
Teeth are covered with a thin sticky film of bacteria, which produces acid when exposed to sugar. This acid is what causes cavities.
Sugary drinks and juices should be avoided during a baby’s first year. These may easily lead to what is known as “baby bottle syndrome”, a form of childhood tooth decay caused by prolonged exposure to sugary liquids, especially overnight.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends not feeding young children juices throughout the day, and certainly not giving them “sippy cups” or bottles filled with juice in bed. Even drinking a milk bottle at night can induce “baby bottle syndrome”, so only give your baby water bottles if they need to drink as they are falling asleep. Using a juice bottle as a pacifier can also be problematic, as it increases the risk of tooth decay at a very young age.
People are also unaware that cavity-causing bacteria can be passed from the mother (or caregiver) to a baby through saliva. Sometimes a mother might put her baby’s feeding spoon or pacifier into her own mouth (to clean it), thus unwittingly passing bacteria to her baby.
Visiting Your Dentist
Generally speaking, children should see their dentist sometime after their first tooth comes in, so the dentist can check that the teeth are developing on schedule. The dentist may also:
1- Perform an oral examination
2- Asses your child’s risk of tooth decay
3- Make sure that habits like thumb sucking or pacifier use are not affecting your child’s oral development
Taking care of your child’s baby teeth is extremely important. Even though baby teeth eventually fall out, they pave the way for healthy, properly aligned permanent teeth and help with proper chewing and healthy digestion. Baby teeth also make it possible for the child to speak clearly. See your dentist early enough to avoid complex problems in the future, and to get your children started on the path to good and preventive oral health routines, that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
About Dr. Prenzlau
Dr. Prenzlau’s Oral Health Center in Jerusalem offers a full range of dental and oral health treatments, including oral rehabilitation, implants and esthetic dentistry.
They are located on Rechov Azza 26 in Jerusalem and can be contacted at 02 566-0669