Dental professionals are urging new parents to take infants to the dentist and warning them of the outcomes of postponing their first visit.
Up until recently, a child’s first dental visit traditionally took place at the age of three or four, largely because there was little concern over baby teeth that would eventually fall out. It is also currently not uncommon for a child to develop cavities as young as five or six years old and only come to understand the importance of good oral health habits after having them filled.
This is just part of the reason why dentists around the world are now recommending that toddlers first visit the dentist when they are only six months to one year old.
Start Seeing the Dentist Early
South Carolina pediatric dentist Dr. Thom Atkins told the Aiken Standard that the earlier a child visits the dentist, the better his or her oral health will be as they grow older.
“We like to see children earlier than most people anticipate,” he said. “We prefer to see them within six months of the first tooth coming in or by the age of 1, whichever comes first.”
Early dental visits can identify potential problems before they evolve and allow the child to become comfortable in a dentist’s office, similar to the way they become comfortable in the office of their pediatrician around the same time.
Professor Nigel Hunt, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at England’s Royal College of Surgeons, suggested that it’s only natural for children to become frightened of the dentist if their visit involves treating cavities or rotting teeth.
“If a first dental visit results in a stressful, traumatic experience, this could have a serious life-long effect on a child’s willingness to engage in the dental process,” he told the Telegraph.
Parents Can Hold Infants
Infants who visit the dentist are held by a parent while the dentist performs an examination and applies fluoride which, surprisingly, doesn’t cause discomfort in most infant patients.
According to the Aiken Standard, studies have proven that children who receive fluoride applications during infancy are less likely to develop oral health problems such as cavities, saving their parents a great deal of money.
Early Visits Help Parent’s as Well
Much of these early visits are additionally devoted to informing parents about brushing and flossing routines as well as potentially harmful effects of pacifiers, sippy cups and sugary snacks.
New research from England shows that most parents still believe children shouldn’t visit the dentist until they are three or four. Within the last year, 80% of one to two-year-olds in England did not visit the dentist, which seems to explain why 9,220 tooth extractions on children aged one to four were performed throughout the same period. Of these extractions, 48 involved infants who were less than a year old.
Most of the extractions were attributed to tooth decay, the most common reason young British children find themselves in the hospital.
Along with many other widespread dental problems, tooth decay is highly preventable as long as the patient practices good oral hygiene. These annual figures mark a 24% increase in tooth extractions on British children aged one to four over the past ten years.
It all started with a call to a Transylvania outreach program for reformed vampires…
A little over two years ago, my then nine year old son, Theo, had to get two teeth pulled, his “canines”, or fangs as they say in the underworld. These were baby teeth that needed to be removed because his adult teeth coming in were looking impacted.
Our dentist wanted to “clear the decks” by pulling these teeth so the permanent teeth had more room to come in properly. This simple extraction would hopefully avoid a more complicated set of procedures later.
My son, having first-hand knowledge of my wife’s many dental phobias, was very skeptical of anything the dentist had to say. I’m a firm believer in the power of positive thinking, and I didn’t want Theo’s negative vibes to potentially derail his recovery. So, how could I get a nine year old to be interested in having two teeth pulled?
Tell him his sacrifice will save the life of a vampire.
What? You heard me. SAVE THE LIFE OF A VAMPIRE. Enter Hector, an undead blood sucker looking to take his life in a new direction. (In truth, it was my buddy Tim from upstate New York, but he did a great vampire impersonation and that was all I needed.)
Which brings us back to where we started, a call to a Transylvania outreach program for reformed vampires. We made the call and we were immediately connected to Hector, a vampire from Brussels (turned in the early 1800s) who had relocated to Transylvania. Tired of being chased by angry crowds with pitchforks, Hector had recently gone through the de-fanging process and was trying to blend in with the human world.
Theo had an instant bond his new undead buddy. Turns out, Hector was not a big fan of dentists either. Having your blood sucking fangs yanked is a frightening proposition, and — unlike my son’s baby teeth — vampire teeth don’t come back.
Hector’s recent shift from denizen of the night to dishwasher at an all-night diner had gone very smoothly. He was now hoping to move up the corporate ladder and become a waiter. Unfortunately, he was too shy to work the tables with huge gaps in his smile. Hector thought it was a dead (no pun intended) give-away to be missing his canines in this part of the world. He was sure the locals would figure out his real back story and start chasing him around with pitchforks yet again.
“I don’t vant to bite your necks anymore…”
Enter my son’s teeth. Over the next two weeks, Hector and Theo swapped stories, a friendship bloomed, and promises of shiny new teeth were made.
On a crisp Monday morning, Theo and I went to the dentist carrying three things: The hopes and dreams of a reformed vampire, a sterilized specimen jar from the biology lab, and a well-padded shipping envelope. The extractions were done in an easy half hour and within another twenty minutes the teeth were packed in the jar, sealed in the envelope, and en route to Transylvania via our local post office.
We heard back from Hector a week later. The transplant had been a success and, new smile intact, he was starting his first shift as a waiter that very evening. He couldn’t send us a selfie for obvious “vampires don’t show up on film” reasons, but he assured Theo that the teeth looked awesome and sent a little sketch he did of himself.
It’s two years later and my son’s adult canines have worked their way into proper positions in his ever-so-sweet smile. We will always be thankful to Hector for helping Theo find the strength to “sacrifice” his own smile to save another’s.
We’re hoping to one day make the journey to Transylvania to see Hector, but for now, the three-by-five self-portrait of our undead friend will have to do.
The Dental Dad is written by Shawn Patrick, General Manager of DentalInsurance.com. Shawn lives in Los Angeles with his lovely wife, 2 sons, Mac the dog, and three fish who shall remain nameless.
Our teeth are meant to last our entire lives. Pediatric dental care is caring for them properly in the first part of our lives. It is essential if we’re to enjoy them later on.
But that doesn’t mean that our children’s dental health needs are the same from childhood through the teenage years. Pediatric dental care can guide us along the way from baby teeth to fully mature adult teeth.
Young mouths need to be cared for, even if baby teeth haven’t come in yet. Oral bacteria can grow with or without teeth (and can also spread through saliva from mother to child), so starting a regimen of good oral hygiene habits early on is essential.
Start building good pediatric dental care habits
Wiping your baby’s gums after feedings with a clean, damp cloth will help remove food particles and the bacteria they produce. Once baby teeth begin to erupt, brushing gently with a child’s sized toothbrush and water will do the same. Usually tooth eruption begins around the six-month mark and is your reminder to schedule an appointment with your child’s dentist.
Pediatric dentistry guidelines encourage establishing a “dental home” for your child by their first birthday, a place where he or she (and you) can feel comfortable, ask questions, and receive guidance on what’s best for those new baby teeth.
By the time your child can be trusted to spit (rather than swallow) toothpaste, start using a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste for brushing. You should assist your child with this practice until the age of 6.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Another very important issue for baby teeth is Early Childhood Caries (ECC), or Baby Bottle Tooth Decay.
Read: Early Childhood Caries: The Truth about Sippy Cups
Many parents feed their toddlers sugary drinks in bottles or sippy cups. These bacteria-producing liquids tend to pool around the front baby teeth when administered this way, creating concentrated areas for potential decay. Avoid giving your child juices or sweetened water in a bottle or sippy cup, and don’t let your child fall asleep with these in hand (or mouth!).
If your water supply lacks proper levels of fluoride, pediatric dental care techniques can assist your child with fluoride washes and applications to strengthen baby teeth enamel.
Once solid foods are introduced to your toddler, maintaining good eating habits will go a long way toward ensuring those baby teeth are replaced with healthy adult teeth. Besides providing excellent nutritional value, fruits, vegetables and whole grains can also leave less fuel for plaque to grow with. Adequate exposure to fluoride is a must for young children. If your water supply lacks proper levels of fluoride, pediatric dental care techniques can assist your child with fluoride washes and applications to strengthen baby teeth enamel.
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Dental hygiene as children grow older
As your child grows, their dental hygiene habits can slack off. School, sports, activities, friends, and junk food can all conspire to get in the way of good oral hygiene habits. Reminding your adolescent or teen that their baby teeth are gone and their adult teeth are the last set to come in is important. Also, hormonal changes can make teens susceptible to gingivitis and other periodontal diseases due to extra gum sensitivity. Make it easy for your teen to brush, floss and eat well. Plenty of healthy snacks around the house are a good way to avoid the temptation of junk food.
Tobacco – whether smoking or chewing – puts your teen at great risk for periodontal diseases, not to mention oral cancers.
Many teens require orthodontics, which require even greater vigilance in the oral hygiene department. Follow your orthodontist’s instructions on the proper way to keep braces and retainers clean.
It really all comes down to the oral hygiene habits you began practicing with your young child. If they can make brushing at least twice daily, flossing, and eating smart a priority, their teeth will likely last well past their own children’s formative years.
Do you have experience transitioning a child through the phases of dental care? What’s your best tip for others who are going through this now? Let us know in the comments section!
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Many parents may wonder why they should consider pediatric dentistry for their toothless baby. After all, teething doesn’t begin until 6 to 12 months of age. But attention to infant dental care is paramount – even before they arrive – and should begin as soon as possible.
Schedule a dental visit before your infant’s first birthday to begin a thorough prevention program and establish a dental home base where you and your child will feel comfortable. Early Childhood Caries (also known as ECC or baby bottle tooth decay) is very common – affecting the teeth of 40% of pre-kindergarten age children, according to the CDC – and quite preventable. Early risk assessment and guidance via adequate infant dental care can go a long way toward keeping your child’s smile bright and healthy for their entire lives.
So you can get a head start on preparing for the arrival of those baby teeth, here are some pointers:
- From birth, clean your baby’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water
- Once baby teeth emerge, use fluoridated toothpaste and an age-appropriate brush twice a day
- Don’t let your baby fall asleep with a bottle containing anything but water
- Avoid serving your child juice in a bottle – use a sippy cup, if necessary
- Thumb-sucking after the age of three can pose bite problems and should be addressed with your dentist
You may be asking, “Why so much care for baby teeth, when they’re just going to fall out eventually?” Here’s why: baby teeth allow your growing child to chew properly, are essential to speech development, and save space in a growing jaw for the upcoming permanent teeth.
A healthy smile is an important part of your child’s development of self-esteem. Caring for that smile as soon as it arrives is your best bet to keep seeing it every day.
What tips do you have for taking care of baby teeth? Share your insights in the Reply section below!
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