INFANT & KIDS ORAL CARE

INFANTS

While most babies don't start getting teeth until they are six months old, infant dental care is important from the very beginning. Many dentists recommend an initial visit before the child's first birthday to make sure teeth and gums are cared for and cleaned properly.

It is a good idea to get in the habit of cleaning your baby's gums soon after birth. Although there may be a little fussing at first, your infant will get used to having the mouth cleaned like other parts of the body. Many children grow to enjoy tooth brushing as part of their daily routine.

During your baby’s first year, there are a few conditions to be aware of, including:

Teething
Between 3 and 9 months, your infant's baby teeth will begin to emerge (erupt) into the mouth. Teething may make your child irritable or fussy and may cause restlessness, drooling or loss of appetite. However, it has not been shown to cause any other childhood symptoms.

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Baby bottle tooth decay — also called "early childhood dental caries" — is one of the most important issues in infant tooth care. This condition is caused by frequent exposure, over time, to sugary liquids, which can seriously damage a baby’s teeth and overall oral health.

Pacifier Use
Sucking is a normal part of development that is comforting to children well into their first years of life. In fact, sucking often brings comfort even after a child no longer needs to get nourishment from a breast or bottle. During a child's first few years, sucking habits probably won't damage his or her mouth. But frequent and long-term sucking can cause problems. This is especially true if the habit continues after baby teeth start to fall out.

Thumbsucking
Thumbsucking is a natural  reflex for little ones — babies even do it in the womb. It's soothing, and many kids stop on their own around ages 2 to 4.

Thumbsucking is certainly nothing to worry about with infants, and might even help them fall asleep more quickly. Problems can arise when kids do a lot of active sucking, especially when their permanent teeth start coming in. Your dentist can offer advice on how to monitor the situation.

TODDLERS

Teething is generally thought of as a part of babyhood, but teeth are still coming in for many toddlers. Some molars might not even come in until after they are 2 years old. You might find cool, refrigerated teething rings helpful — or you can check with your pediatrician about whether over-the-counter pain medications could be appropriate.

Toddlers bodies are changing, but so are their temperaments. They're starting to have their own ideas about what they want to wear, eat, and do, which can make convincing them to brush tricky. As with all things, try to make tooth-brushing a fun activity to increase your level of success.

During the toddler years, you'll want to keep an eye on issues such as:

Tooth Brushing
Toddlers should brush twice a day with the help of an adult. They can use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste starting around 2 years old, when they can brush without swallowing. Special toothpaste and toothbrushes with their favorite characters and kid friendly flavors can help get them excited about brushing, too.

Toddler Cavities
This is a great time to start taking your toddler to the dentist regularly to check for cavities. Twice yearly is standard, and a pediatric dentist is a great option if there's one in your area, since they are pros with small children. Toddlers might even have cavities, and baby teeth do need fillings, just like permanent teeth.

Nutrition
Toddlers can be picky eaters, but don't give up. Try serving vegetables lots of different ways, and offer milk with meals to help combat acids that can erode enamel. A diet low in processed sugar can help keep toddlers cavity free, and lots of fruits, veggies and water are good for everyone's oral health, including toddlers.

KIDS

As your child grows, continue to take good care of their baby teeth. While they do eventually fall out, baby teeth play an important role in helping your child bite and chew food, and speak clearly. Baby teeth also save space for the permanent teeth, and help guide them into place.

Underneath your kid's baby teeth, the roots and position of the adult teeth are growing into place. Research shows that children who develop cavities in their baby teeth are more likely to develop cavities as an adult, so be sure to keep in the habit of prioritizing regular dental checkups. It is important to keep your child's baby teeth clean, but once the permanent teeth start to come in you really need to make cleaning them a priority. These teeth will last your child a lifetime.

During the kid years, you might have questions about:

Brushing & Flossing

You probably began using toothpaste to brush your child's teeth when they were around 2 years old, and started flossing once a day as soon as two teeth touched each other. But with an older kid, they probably want to do it themselves. It's great to give them a turn. Afterwards, you should check their work and brush their teeth a second time. Most children won't be able to brush their teeth well on their own until they are about 8 years old.

Losing Teeth

Kids lose 20 baby teeth over five to seven years — and it's really exciting for them! The first wiggly tooth usually shows up when they are around 5 or 6 years old, but it can happen as late as around 8 years old. You can encourage kids to keep wiggling it until the tooth can fall out on it's own, and remember that it can take a few months for the tooth to be fully ready to fall out.

Tooth Fairy

After all the excitement of a loose tooth, it's time for the tooth fairy to visit. The tooth fairy usually comes at night to retrieve the baby tooth and leave a reward. In most cases, the tooth fairy deals in currency, but the going rate per tooth fluctuates. In 2018, the national average was $4.19 per tooth according to the Original Tooth Fairy Poll by Delta Dental, and in 2019, it's reportedly $3.70 according to the updated poll.

Daniel Moheban