Tips for Parents

A Child's Dental Care Begins Before Birth

Teeth begin to form between the third and sixth months of pregnancy. Good health habits are important for development of the unborn child. Unless a physician recommends otherwise, pregnant women should remember to consume dairy products, which are the best sources for calcium, the main building block for bones and teeth.

Bringing Up Baby

You can't see them, but at birth your baby already has 20 primary teeth, some of which are almost completely formed in the jaw. Wiping baby's gums with a clean gauze pad after feeding will remove the plaque and bacteria that can harm erupting teeth. Usually, the first four teeth begin to appear when the baby is between age six months and one year.

The First Dental Visit

The ADA recommends parents take children to the dentist by the child's first birthday. In addition to checking for decay and other possible problems, the dentist will teach you how to properly clean your child's teeth daily, evaluate any adverse habits such as thumb sucking, and identify your child's fluoride needs.

Babies and Bottles

The primary (baby) teeth are very important for chewing, speaking and appearance. They also help hold space in the jaws for the permanent teeth. One serious form of tooth decay among young children is early childhood decay (sometimes called baby bottle tooth decay). This condition is caused by frequent and long exposures of an infant's teeth to liquids that contain sugar, such as milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juice and other sweetened drinks.

The Growing Years

Begin brushing your child's teeth with a little water as soon as the first tooth appears. If you are considering using toothpaste before age two, ask your dentist or physician first.

Parents need to supervise toothbrushing to make sure children over age two use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and avoid swallowing the toothpaste. Children should be taught to spit out remaining toothpaste and rinse with water after brushing. Most children will be able to brush on their own by age six or seven. Parents should be using floss or an interdental cleaner on their child's teeth as soon as any two teeth touch. Cleaning between the teeth is important because it removes plaque where a toothbrush can't reach. Brush your child's teeth twice a day unless your dentist recommends otherwise.

Sealing out Decay

As permanent teeth come in, talk to your dentist about having dental sealants applied to protect teeth from decay. A dental sealant is a clear material that is applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth where decay most often occurs. The sealant acts as a barrier, protecting teeth from bacteria and the acid that attacks enamel.

Nature's Cavity Fighter

Fluoride is one of the most effective agents for preventing tooth decay. Ask the dentist if your child is getting the proper amount of fluoride. The best way for your child to receive fluoride's protection is by drinking water containing the right amount of the mineral. Children who from birth drink water containing fluoride on average have up to 50 percent fewer cavities. Your dentist can provide fluoride supplements for your children if you live in a community that does not have optimally fluoridated drinking water. Your dentist may also recommend office fluoride treatments.

What to Tell the Dentist

It's important for parents to take an active role in their child's oral health care. Parents should let the dentist know about their child's health. Things parents should tell the dentist: If the child is ill; What medications the child may be taking; If the child has any known drug allergies.

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