Dental Care for Children
As a parent, you have a big role to play in keeping your child's teeth healthy and clean. You can help prevent cavities. Prevention starts at home, with good eating habits and daily cleaning of the teeth. This section has important information on how to properly care for primary teeth and new permanent teeth.
Cleaning Teeth – Young children are not able to clean their own teeth. As a parent, you must do it for them when they are very young and do it with them, as they get older. When your child can write (not print) his or her name, your child is ready to do a good job brushing. You should check to make sure your child does a good job.
You should start cleaning your child's mouth even before your child has teeth. It gets both you and your child into the habit of keeping the mouth clean, and it gives baby (or primary) teeth a clean place to come into. The goal is to wipe all parts of the gums and teeth.
Here's how to do it:
Lie your baby in a comfortable place.
Make sure you can see into your baby's mouth.
Use a soft baby brush or wrap your finger in a clean, damp washcloth. Then, brush or wipe your baby's gums and teeth.
Do not use toothpaste until your child has teeth.
Dental Development – Primary Teeth
This chart tells you when baby teeth come in (or erupt) in most children.
If your child is getting his or her teeth and seems to be in pain, you can:
rub the gums with a clean finger, or
rub the gums with the back of a small, cool spoon.
If your child is still unhappy, your dentist, pharmacist or doctor
can suggest an over-the-counter medicine to ease the pain.
Here's what you should not do:
Do not use the kind of painkiller that can be rubbed on your child's gums. Your child may swallow it.
Do not give your child teething biscuits. They may have sugar added or contain hidden sugars.
Do not ignore a fever. Getting new teeth does not make babies sick or give them a fever. If your child has a fever, check with your doctor.
Early Childhood Tooth Decay – Once your child has teeth, he is susceptible to tooth decay. Mother's milk, formula, cow's milk and fruit juice all contain sugars.
Babies may get early childhood tooth decay from going to bed with a bottle of milk, formula or juice. Unrestricted at-will breast-feeding at night may increase the risk of tooth decay, although the majority of breast-fed children do not experience this early childhood disease.
It can happen to children up to age four. Once your child has teeth, lift his or her lips once a month and check the teeth. Look for dull white spots or lines on the teeth. These may be on the necks of the teeth next to the gums. Dark teeth are also a sign of tooth decay.
If you see any signs, go to the dentist right away. Early childhood tooth decay must be treated quickly. If not, your child may have pain and infection.
If you give your child a bottle of milk, formula or juice at bedtime, stopping all at once will not be easy. Here are some tips:
Put plain water in the bottle.
If this is turned down, give your child a clean soother, a stuffed toy or a blanket.
If your child cries, do not give up.
Comfort him or her, and try again.
If this does not work, try watering down your child's bottle over a week or two, until there is only plain water left.
Pacifiers & Thumb Sucking – It is normal for babies to suck because it helps them relax.
By the time your child is two or three years of age, he or she has less need to suck. If your child still likes to suck, a soother is better than sucking a thumb. Why? Because you can control when and how your child uses a soother. You can't control a thumb going into the mouth.
Never put sugar, honey or corn syrup on a soother. They can cause cavities. It's best to get your child to stop sucking before permanent teeth come in, at about age five. If a child keeps sucking a soother or thumb after the permanent teeth have come in, it could cause problems with how the jaw and teeth grow.
Your Child's First Visit – The Canadian Dental Association recommends the assessment of infants, by a dentist, within 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth or by one year of age. The goal is to have your child visit the dentist before there is a problem with his or her teeth. In most cases, a dental exam every six months will let your child's dentist catch small problems early.
Here are 3 reasons to take your child for dental exams:
You can find out if the cleaning you do at home is working.
Your dentist can find problems right away and fix them.
Your child can learn that going to the dentist helps prevent problems.
Your dentist may want to take X-rays. X-rays show decay between the teeth. They will also show if teeth are coming in the way they should. Your child's dentist may also talk to you about fluoride.
Once your child has permanent molars, your dentist may suggest sealing them to protect them from cavities. A sealant is a kind of plastic that is put on the chewing surface of the molars. The plastic seals the tooth and makes it less likely to trap food and germs.
When your child goes for a dental exam, your dentist can tell you if crooked or crowded teeth may cause problems. In many cases, crooked teeth straighten out as the child's jaw grows and the rest of the teeth come in.
If they do not straighten out, your child may have a bite problem (also known as malocclusion). This can cause problems with eating and with teeth cleaning. It can also affect your child's looks and make him or her feel out of place.
Your dentist can suggest ways to treat this, or refer your child to an orthodontist. An orthodontist is a dental specialist with 2 to 3 years of extra university training in this area.
The dentist says my child needs a filling in a baby tooth. Since the tooth is going to fall out, why bother?
Some primary (or baby) teeth will be in your child's mouth until age 12. The tooth that needs to be fixed may be one of those.
Broken teeth or teeth that are infected can hurt your child's health and the way your child feels about him or herself.
To do a filling, the dentist removes the decay and "fills" the hole with metal, plastic or other material. A filling can be a cheap and easy way to fix a problem that could be painful and cost more later because it stops decay from spreading deeper into the tooth.
If a filling is not done and decay spreads, the tooth may need to be pulled out. If this happens, your child may need a space maintainer to hold space for the permanent tooth.
When a baby (or primary) tooth is missing, the teeth on each side may move into the space. They can block the permanent tooth from coming in. To hold the space, your dentist may put a plastic or metal space maintainer on the teeth on each side of the space, to keep the teeth from moving in.