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Oral Health in Children

By Nick Baumann, DDS
Baby teeth are very important to the development of permanent teeth.

As children grow, it’s important to monitor their oral health and development. Preventing many common problems is easier than trying to correct them once they arise. Being aware of how to take care of our children’s teeth and what issues to look for can help immensely in development.

We usually start to see the first baby teeth when a child reaches around 6 months old. The last of them come in between ages 2-3. It’s good to have an initial dental visit within 6 months of the first teeth appearing. Even though the child will eventually lose all these teeth, they are very important to the development of permanent teeth, so, it is vital to keep them clean and cavity free. Teeth should start to be cleaned lightly as soon as they erupt. At about 18 months to 2 years, a very small amount of toothpaste can be used as long as care is taken not to allow the child to swallow any. 

Primary tooth care is imperative because early loss of these teeth can lead to crowding or misalignment of the permanent teeth. Sugary foods should be limited in young children. It’s also important to know once a child has teeth, they should not be given a bottle that has sugary liquid in it at bedtime, including juices or formulas with sugar, as it can sit on their teeth overnight and cause cavities. 

As a child is growing, parents need to be cognizant that some habits need to be monitored as they can have a negative effect on the way the mouth develops. Among these issues are thumb sucking and tongue thrusting. After the permanent adult teeth start erupting at 5-6 years old, it’s easy to adversely modify growth with these habits. Instead of growing normally, thumb sucking and tongue thrusting can cause the palate to constrict and elongate. These practices can cause issues with teeth position, including flared teeth or open bites. Among other effects, this may cause speaking issues such as a lisp. It’s important to eliminate these habits when the child is young. Parents can implement some strategies, or a dentist may be able to help. 

After the permanent teeth start erupting, it is also a good time to ask your dentist or orthodontist questions to see how the teeth and jaw are developing. As children have a large potential for growth when they are younger, noticing issues developing earlier can often be corrected easier and with less intervention than if you wait until the child is older. Waiting too long can mean more involved and costly treatment. Sometimes with early intervention, children can avoid braces just by using appliances to direct their natural growth in the right direction. 

If you have young children, it’s important to educate yourself about what will lead to good oral health and development. Parents should be aware of what they can do to keep their children’s mouth and teeth healthy and avoid issues as they grow up. Don’t be afraid to ask your dentist what you can do to make your children’s teeth as healthy as possible. 

Dr. Nick is with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.

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