Baby teeth are important, especially the first two years.
Birth to 12 months
- • Good dental habits should begin before the first tooth appears. After feedings, gently brush your baby's gums using water on a baby toothbrush that has soft bristles, or wipe them clean with a washcloth
- • Ask about fluoride. After the first tooth appears, ask your child's doctor if your baby is getting enough fluoride. Many experts recommend using a fluoride-free toothpaste before the age of two, when the child can routinely spit out the excess
- • Schedule your baby's well-child visits. During the first year your doctor will check their mouth
- • Schedule a dental check-up. If your baby is at high risk for tooth decay, your child's doctor will recommend that your baby see a dentist.
12 to 24 months
- • Brush! Brush your child's teeth 2 times a day using water on a baby toothbrush that has soft bristles, The best times are after breakfast and before bed.
- • Limit juice. Make sure your child doesn't drink more than 1 small cup of juice each day and only at mealtimes. Acidic juices can contribute to your child's susceptibility.
- • Consult with your child's dentist or doctor about sucking habits. Sucking too strongly on a pacifier, thumb, or fingers can affect the shape of the mouth and how the top and bottom teeth line up.
- • Schedule a dental check-up. Take your child for a dental checkup if he has not had one.
Children who are at high risk for cavities can get sealants placed on their primary teeth. Dental sealants are plastic coverings that are placed over the grooves of teeth to protect them from decay. They are more routinely done on permanent teeth, but may be applied to baby teeth when indicated.
- • Brush! Brushing 2 times a day with a child-sized toothbrush that has soft bristles is recommended. Encourage them to brush their teeth on their own. However, to ensure clean teeth, you should brush them again. If your child doesn't want to have their teeth brushed, consider turning it into a game. For example, the toothbrush can look upstairs and downstairs in the mouth for hidden tooth treasures. Also, consider brushing their teeth while they are distracted, for example, during bath time.
- • Use fluoride toothpaste. Usually around 2 you an start using an ADA fluoridated toothpaste if the child can routinely spit out the excess toothpaste. Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, or less, and smear the paste into the bristles. Swallowing too much toothpaste can make brown or white spots on the permanent teeth. If your child does not like the taste of toothpaste, there are several different types of flavors that you can try. If still unsuccessful, just use plain water.
- • Floss. You can begin flossing your child's teeth as soon as the teeth touch each other. Not all children require flossing at this early age if they exhibit a generalized spacing pattern. If uncertain, check with your dentist.
- • Schedule a dental check-up. Take your child for their regular check-up 2 times a year.
Permanent Teeth Have to Last a Lifetime
Children typically start to lose their baby teeth and replace them with adult teeth when they are 5 to 7 years of age. Some children start losing teeth earlier, others later. The order that your child's teeth come in is more important than when they start to come in.
Most often, the first permanent teeth to come in are the lower front four teeth. However, some children get their first permanent molars (sometimes called the 6-year molars) first.
The 6-year molars come in behind the primary teeth. They do not replace primary teeth, so no teeth are lost as they emerge. Around age 11 or 12, the second permanent molars (also called 12-year molars) come in behind the 6-year molars, typically increasing the total tooth number from 24 to 28. By the time your child is 13 years old, most of his permanent teeth will be in place. Wisdom teeth, or third molars, come in between ages 17 and 21. However, some people don't get any wisdom teeth, or don't get all four. More often, wisdom teeth develop, but there may not be room in the mouth for them and require extraction.
Caring for Permanent Teeth
You should continue to help your children brush their teeth twice a day until they are 8 years old or can show that they can do a good job on their own. Have them brush after breakfast and before bed. Keep your children's teeth free of food particles, especially the molars. Molars have lots of little grooves and crevices and food particles can hide there acting as food for bacteria, thereby initiating the cavity process. Plaque formation and growth is continuous and can only be controlled by regular brushing, flossing, and the use of other dental aids.
Ideally, brushing should occur after every meal. More practically, brushing your teeth at lest twice a day (after breakfast and before bed) with an ADA approved toothpaste and soft-bristled brush should be routinely completed.
- • Brush at a 45 degree angle to the gums, gently using a small, circular motion, ensuring that you always feel the bristles on the gums.
- • Brush the three surfaces of the teeth: outer (cheek side), inner (tongue side), and biting surfaces of each tooth.
- • Hold the toothbrush straight up and down, using the tip of the brush head to clean the backs of front teeth.
- • Brush your tongue when possible to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.
Electric toothbrushes may be recommended when dexterity is an issue, or when a child begins orthodontic treatment. They are easy to use and can remove plaque efficiently. Simply place the bristles of the electric brush on your gums and teeth and allow the brush to do its job, several teeth at a time.
Two of the most popular brands are the ones manufactured by Sonicare and Oral B.
Flossing not only helps clean these spaces, it disrupts plaque colonies from building up, preventing damage to the gums, teeth, and bone. Usually waxed floss glides between teeth easier.
How to floss properly:
- • Take 12-16 inches (30-40cm) of dental floss and wrap it around your middle fingers, leaving about 2 inches (5cm) of floss between the hands.
- • Using your thumbs and forefingers to guide the floss, gently insert the floss between teeth, being careful not to snap it downward with great force.
- • Curve the floss into a “C” shape around each tooth. Gently slide the floss up and down under the gum line, cleaning the side of each tooth.
Floss holders can be used by parents to assist in their child’s home care or if they are having difficulty using conventional flossing techniques.
It is important to rinse your mouth with water after brushing, and also after meals if you are unable to brush.
Use of a fluoride rinse before bedtime (after brushing) may also be a helpful, preventive tool in reducing the caries risk of your child over the age of six. The anti-cavity fluoride rinses ACT Anti-Cavity Rinse, Crest’s Pro-Health or Listerine’s Total Care, and Colgate’s Phos-Flur (for those children with braces) are among the most popular, effective ones used today. Make sure the fluoride rinse you choose bears the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Be sure however, your child is old enough to be responsible in spitting out the rinse instead of ingesting it, and that the rinse is alcohol-free. If there is a chance that the rinse will be ingested, postpone its use until the child is older.
For information regarding caring for a injured tooth, click here.