Pediatric Dental Care
Dental care begins even before a baby's first tooth appears. Remember that just because you can't see the teeth it doesn't mean they aren't there. Teeth actually begin to form in the second trimester of pregnancy and, at birth; some of your baby's 20 primary teeth are fully developed in the jaw.
Running a damp washcloth over your baby's gums following feedings can prevent build-up of damaging bacteria. Once your child has a few teeth showing, you can brush them with a soft child's toothbrush or rub them with gauze at the end of the day. Teethers can now be purchased which incorporate soft bristles to clean your baby's teeth while they chew.
Babies can develop dental decay when good feeding habits are not practiced. Putting a baby to sleep with a bottle in his or her mouth may be convenient in the short term — but it can harm the baby's teeth. When the sugars from juice or milk remain on a baby's teeth for hours, they may eat away at the enamel, creating a condition known as bottle mouth. Pocked, pitted, or discoloured front teeth are signs of bottle mouth. Severe cases result in cavities and the possible need to remove the front teeth until permanent ones grow in.
Adhering to specific times for drinking each day is recommended since sucking on a bottle throughout the day can be equally damaging to young teeth.
Pediatric dentists are trained to handle the wide range of issues associated with children’s dental health. They also know when to refer you to a different type of specialist such as an orthodontist to correct an overbite or an oral surgeon for jaw realignment. Pediatric dentists can also assist in promoting proper brushing and flossing techniques with your child. A pediatric dentist's primary goals are prevention (heading off potential problems before they occur) and maintenance (using routine checkups and proper daily care to keep teeth and gums healthy).
It is recommended that a child's first visit to the dentist take place by their first birthday. At this visit, the dentist will explain proper brushing and flossing techniques (you need to floss once your baby has two teeth that touch) and conduct a modified exam while your baby sits on your lap.
Such visits can help in the early detection of potential problems, and help children overcome fears they may develop as they grow older.
When all primary teeth have come in (usually around age 2½), your dentist may start applying topical fluoride. Fluoride hardens the tooth enamel, helping to ward off the most common childhood oral disease, dental cavities (also called dental caries). Cavities occur when bacteria and food left on the teeth after eating are not brushed away. Acid collects on a tooth, softening its enamel until a hole — or cavity — forms. Regular use of fluoride toughens the enamel, making it more difficult for acid to penetrate.
Although most areas require tap water to be fluoridated, some may not. If the water supply is not fluoridated, or if your family uses purified water, ask your dentist for fluoride supplements. Most toothpastes contain fluoride but toothpaste alone will not fully protect a child's mouth. Be careful, however, since too much fluoride can cause tooth discoloration. Check with your dentist before supplementing.
Tooth discoloration also can occur from prolonged use of antibiotics, and some children's medications that contain a large amount of sugar. Many pediatric medicines contain such high levels of sugar in order to make them palatable and parents should encourage children to brush after taking them, particularly if the prescription will be long-term. Brushing at least twice a day and routine flossing will help maintain a healthy mouth. Children as young as age 2 or 3 can begin to use toothpaste when brushing, as long as they're supervised. Children should not ingest large amounts of toothpaste — a pea-sized amount for toddlers is just right and parents should always make sure that the child spits the toothpaste out instead of swallowing.
As your child's permanent teeth grow in, the dentist can help prevent decay by applying a thin wash of resin to the back teeth, where most chewing occurs. Known as a sealant, this protective coating keeps bacteria from settling in the hard-to-reach crevices of the molars.
Although dental research has resulted in increasingly sophisticated preventative techniques, including fillings and sealants that seep fluoride, a dentist's care is only part of the ongoing process. Follow-up at home plays an equally important role. For example, sealants on the teeth do not mean that a child can eat sweets uncontrollably or eliminate the daily brushing and flossing — parents must work with children to teach good oral health habits.
If you are prone to tooth decay or gum disease, your children may also be at a higher risk as well. Therefore, even the most diligent brushing and flossing may not prevent a cavity. Be sure to call your dentist if your child complains of tooth pain, which could indicate a cavity that requires treatment.
New materials offer pediatric dentists more filling and repair options than ever but silver remains the substance of choice for the majority of fillings in permanent teeth. Other materials, such as composite resins, are gaining popularity. These resins bond to the teeth so the filling won't pop out and can be used to rebuild teeth damaged through injury or conditions such as cleft palate. Tooth-coloured resins also provide a more natural looking appearance.
In cases of fracture, extensive decay, or malformation of baby teeth, dentists may opt for stainless steel crowns. Crowns maintain the tooth while preventing the decay from spreading. As children grow older, their bite and the alignment of their teeth can become an issue. Orthodontic treatment now begins earlier than it used to, but what once was a symbol of preteen embarrassment — a mouth filled with metal wires and braces — is a relic of the past. Children as young as age 7 now sport corrective appliances and efficient, plastic-based materials have replaced old-fashioned metal "tracks".
Dentists know that manipulation of teeth at a younger age can be easier and more effective in the long run. Younger children's teeth can be positioned with relatively minor orthodontia, thus preventing major procedures later on.
In some rare instances, usually when a more complicated dental procedure is to be performed, a dentist will recommend general anaesthesia be used. Parents should make sure that the professional who administers the medicine is a trained anaesthesiologist or oral surgeon before agreeing to the procedure.
Don't be afraid to question the dentist. Giving your child an early start on checkups and good dental hygiene is an effective way to help prevent extensive dental work later on Encouraging kids to use a mouth guard during sports also can prevent serious dental injuries.
As children grow, plan on routine dental checkups anywhere from once every 3 months to once a year, depending on the dentist's recommendations. Limiting intake of sugary foods and regular brushing and flossing all contribute to a child's dental health. Your partnership with the dentist will help ensure healthy teeth and a beautiful smile.
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