Childhood Tooth Care
One of the milestones infants reach their first year is their first tooth. But many parents don’t realize that is also time to begin good oral cleaning habits.
“Steps taken to care for and protect primary teeth, even in infants, is critical to developing form and function of adult teeth,” says Gerald
Ferretti, D.D.S., professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry.
For infants and toddlers, care should begin by using a wet cloth or small toothbrush and a nonfluoride toothpaste to remove plaque and clean teeth and gums.
As soon as children are old enough to hold a toothbrush, they should begin trying to brush by themselves, with parents always confirming it has been done, says
Ferretti, also a professor of pediatrics in the UK College of Medicine.
In addition, he encourages parents to prevent children from drinking from a baby bottle after the first year.
“Baby bottle tooth decay is a big problem in Kentucky,” he says.
“Tooth enamel is destroyed when infants are allowed to sleep with a juice- or milk-filled bottle in their mouth.” Even for children under 1 year old, parents need to remove the bottle from their mouth once they go to sleep, Ferretti says.
Orthodontic pacifiers are recommended over thumb-sucking in infants and toddlers, Ferretti says.
“The sucking reflex is a normal function of childhood and it is much easier to get rid of a pacifier than to stop thumb-sucking,” Ferretti says.
Pacifiers should be taken away before permanent teeth begin erupting around the age of 4 or 5, he says. “However, peer pressure often causes children to break the habit by that time.”
To make sure teeth are developing properly and that baby bottle tooth decay has been prevented, a child’s first dental visit should occur before age 2, Ferretti says. This initial visit for younger children can be informal with the child sitting on a parent’s lap, allowing the dentist to “get a quick look,” Ferretti says. “If an older child or the parent has a dental appointment, many dentists also will check the toddler’s mouth to make sure teeth and gums are healthy.”
Another way to ensure healthy teeth is by applying dental sealants. Once children are school age and permanent molars are coming in, sealants applied to teeth dramatically decrease cavities, Ferretti says. Dental sealants also are painless and cost-efficient and are covered by most insurance plans as a preventive health measure, he says.
To choose a dentist or pediatric dentist for your child, ask for referrals from your pediatrician, friends and neighbors with children, or call your local dental society.