February 2, 2016

It Starts with the First Tooth

Oral Health Advice for Every Stage of Your Child’s Development

Many adults understand the importance of regular dental care, but parents often wonder why a dentist would need to see a nearly toothless infant. The reason is prevention, explains Catherine M. Flaitz DDS, MS, chair of the Division of Pediatric Dentistry at The Ohio State University’s College of Dentistry and Erin L. Gross, DDS, PhD, MS, assistant professor. 

“Prevention starts with education, so we talk about limiting the sugars that cause cavities and how to care for your child’s teeth. We monitor growth and development and look for early signs of disease. We can give tips for dealing with teething and talk about what to do if your child ever has an accident that injures the teeth,” says Dr. Flaitz of pediatric dentists.  “Early visits are also important to help children become comfortable with the dentist, and we hope this helps them have positive experiences in the office.”

Dr. Gross agrees, saying that early—and continued—trips to the dentist play an important role in helping children have a cavity-free childhood. “The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children see a dentist no later than their first birthday,” says Dr. Gross.

Drs. Flaitz and Gross suggest parents talk to their family’s dentist for specific recommendations, but share the following advice for children of all ages.

6 to 24 months

  • Take your child to the dentist by his or her first birthday.
  • Sugary drinks and snacks, including juice, should only be given during meals or avoided entirely.
  • You should brush your child’s teeth twice a day using a small, soft toothbrush and a rice-sized “smear” of toothpaste with fluoride as soon as the first tooth appears.
  • Drs. Flaitz and Gross say that sucking on thumbs, fingers, or pacifiers is normal at this age
  • As children become more mobile they may have accidents that break or knock out their teeth. If that happens, call your dentist right away.

2 – 6 years

  • Continue to limit drinks and snacks that have sugar in them.
  • At age 3 you can increase the toothpaste with fluoride your child uses to a pea-sized amount.
  • Kids at this age want to brush their teeth by themselves, but they’re not old enough to do a good job yet. You’ll need to help your child brush until he or she is a little older.
  • If your child sucks on a thumb, finger, or pacifier, then it’s time to help him or her stop. Ideally, by the time the age of 3.
  • If your child has an injury to his or her teeth, call your dentist right away.

6 – 12 years

  • Continue to limit drinks and snacks that have sugar in them. This advice won’t change, no matter how old your child is!
  • Your child will be getting better at brushing, but should still be supervised until he or she is at least 8 years old.
  • For lots of kids, the front baby teeth will start to get loose and fall out at age 6, and at the same time they’ll start to get permanent molars in the very back of their mouths. They’ll continue to lose more baby teeth and get new permanent teeth throughout this time.
  • Your dentist might talk to you about putting sealants on new permanent molars to help prevent cavities on the chewing surfaces.
  • It may have been difficult to floss your child’s teeth when he or she was younger, but as adolescence approaches, it’s helpful to make flossing a part of the daily routine to prevent gum disease.
  • As the permanent teeth start coming in, the dentist will be able to tell if your child will need braces.
  • Kids in this age group often become more involved in sports, and this can put them at a higher risk for injuries to the teeth. Wearing mouth guards can help prevent injury, and if an injury happens, you should call your dentist right away.
  • Smelly breath can occur at any age but school-aged children may be teased about the problem. Brushing away some of the bacteria on the top of the tongue and drinking plenty of water helps to keep the mouth moist and fresh.

Drs. Flaitz and Gross stress that healthy baby teeth are important to the overall health of the child and the permanent teeth that are already developing. “Parents ask me all the time why baby teeth matter if they’re just going to fall out anyway,” says Dr. Gross. “But if baby teeth have bad cavities, then they might start to hurt, which makes it hard for kids to eat, pay attention in school, and even sleep. If the teeth then become infected, the infection can spread and make the child sick or affect the permanent teeth that haven’t even come in yet,” she says.

Dr. Flaitz agrees, saying that the best way to prevent dental problems is to start early. “The number one question parents ask me is when oral healthcare should begin for their children,” says Dr. Flaitz. “I tell them, ‘it starts with the first tooth.’”

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and a perfect reminder to schedule your child’s six-month checkup. Contact your family dentist or schedule a dental exam at the Pediatric Dental Clinic at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry at 614-292-2027.