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Set Your Baby Up for a Lifetime of Dental Health

Set Your Baby Up for a Lifetime of Dental Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay is the single most common, yet preventable childhood disease.

Many parents and caregivers are uncertain as to when a child should begin professional dental care. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child go to the dentist by age one or within six months after the first tooth erupts. Primary teeth typically begin growing in around six months of age and all 20 are usually present by the age of three.

According to Stacey R. Carter, DMD with CoastKids Pediatric Dentistry, establishing a “dental home” for your child at an early age is important for several reasons:

  • to look for any decay or weak spots that may be more cavity-prone in the future
  • to ensure that the teeth are erupting normally
  • to discuss and demonstrate proper oral hygiene techniques to parents/caregivers
  • to discuss feeding practices and carbohydrate intake
  • to discuss pacifier and thumb/finger sucking habits
  • to give guidance about future growth/development regarding the child’s mouth/teeth

“We also find that children who have been acquainted with the dental office and team at an early age are more likely to have fun, non-stressful future dental appointments,” Dr. Carter said.

When asked what parents should expect for their child’s first dental appointment, Amy Spencer DMD with Taylor Dental Family and Cosmetic Dentistry stated that, “Some dentists use the first appointment as a ‘happy visit’ to help the child get comfortable with being in a dental office. The child may sit in the parent’s lap for the exam to help the child feel at ease. We recommend the child have regular dental cleanings every six months after their first visit.”

Dr. Spencer recommends kids “practice” visiting the dentist at home by having the child lie down and open his/her mouth like an alligator while the parent counts the teeth.

“Most children love going to the dentist and look forward to future trips,” Dr. Spencer said. “However, don’t get discouraged if your child is shy or is uncooperative at the first visit. You get to try again in six months!”

In addition to taking your child to regular dental check-ups, parents and caregivers need to watch for changes in teeth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends you seek immediate dental care for your child if he or she has any of the following symptoms: pain, swelling, discoloration of teeth, or dental trauma due to accidents.

Another serious dental issue parents and caregivers need to be aware of is baby bottle tooth decay. This is a condition caused by frequent and long exposures of an infant’s teeth to liquids that contain sugar, such as milk, formula or fruit juice. Dr. Carter warns that putting a baby to bed with a bottle other than water can cause serious and rapid tooth decay.

“Sweet liquid pools around the child’s teeth, giving bacteria an opportunity to produce acids that attack tooth enamel,” Dr. Carter said. “If you must give the baby a bottle as a comforter at bedtime, it should contain only water. If your child won’t fall asleep without the bottle and its usual beverage, gradually dilute the bottle’s contents with water over a period of two to three weeks. If breastfeeding at night time, wipe your child’s mouth with a damp washcloth following each feeding.”

Whether you are a new parent or an experienced caregiver, your child’s oral health is an important aspect of overall health. By establishing healthy habits today, your child can have a healthy smile for life.


Ashley Schafer Karcher lives in Ocean Springs with her husband and four children.

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