Dental Care and Your Child
Childhood is a critical time to set the stage for good oral health for the rest of a young person's life. Establishing good habits, nurturing healthy permanent teeth, correcting alignment issues, and regularly visiting a pediatric dentist early on are all part of maintaining healthy teeth as a child grows up.
Starting Off Right: Learning to Brush and Floss
By 3 years old, a child typically has all 20 primary teeth, and may begin to assist their parents in brushing and flossing. By age 4, strong habits of proper brushing and flossing should be encouraged to build a foundation for healthy teeth throughout childhood. Setting time aside every morning and evening for tooth brushing and flossing can be a fun, bonding time for parents and children, and encourages confidence as the children become more independent with these activities.
Between the ages of 2-6 years old, screenings for possible orthodontic work can also begin to take place. A pediatric dentist will evaluate children for problems with bite alignment called malocclusions, and review treatment options and referrals to orthodontists when appropriate. Evaluations can include study models (creating a mold of the teeth) or X-rays. Within this age range, orthodontic treatment can be simpler and less involved than orthodontia for older children.
Healthy Teeth During Childhood and Pre-Adolescence
The most important way for a child to achieve healthy dental development is by maintaining good brushing and flossing habits, along with being regularly evaluated by a pediatric dentist. The National Institute of Health recommends electric toothbrushes for their superior cleaning potential, and many also have built-in timers so that children learn to brush for a sufficient amount of time. Another great habit for children to develop is that of rinsing their mouths with water after high-sugar foods or drinks, which leave a sugary residue that can be very harmful to teeth. However, the best mode of prevention is still to limit the intake of these sugary substances.
After 6 years old, children also typically begin to lose their primary teeth, although this may occur earlier or later. Normally, teeth fall out in the same order they grew in, beginning with the front teeth and ending with the back molars. The first sign of this process is a loose tooth. Allowing the tooth to wiggle and fall out by itself is least painful for the child. If a permanent tooth begins to grow in behind a still-present primary tooth, this is no cause for alarm. Normally, this will loosen the primary tooth, which will then fall out on its own. Cases in which the baby tooth does not seem to be loosening can be easily resolved by a pediatric dentist.
Orthodontia becomes common after the age of 6, and many options exist to align teeth that are comfortable and effective. Regular checkups with a pediatric dentist ensure that children are followed adequately for potentially developing malocclusion. These checkups are also critical because, despite all best efforts, cavities can still form. These need to be addressed quickly by a dentist, not only for the comfort of the child, but also for their continued oral health.
Throughout childhood development, taking good care of teeth from toddlerhood to pre-adolescence will affect all aspects of a growing child's life. From speech and the ability to chew, to positive self-image and healthy adult teeth, building a strong and positive groundwork for good oral health offers myriad benefits for children that will last for the rest of their lives.