Do you know when your child’s dental care should begin? The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry states that the appearance of the first baby tooth is the best indicator. For most babies, this occurs when they are between six months and one year of age. A simpler way to remember is to schedule their first dental visit by their first birthday. It’s important to remember that baby teeth serve as placeholders for adult teeth. If baby teeth are damaged, permanent teeth can grow in out of position, resulting in crowding and/or crooked teeth.
- Brushing teeth―as a preschooler (ages 2-5), you should brush your child’s teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste―once after breakfast and once at night right before bedtime. The last thing your child’s teeth should touch before going to bed, and for the rest of the night, is the toothpaste from their toothbrush. Use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, and smear it into the bristles with your finger in order to minimize swallowing. Brush your preschooler’s teeth for at least two minutes each time. Teach your child to “spit out” the toothpaste as soon as possible after brushing.
- Proper toothpaste―for very young children (ages 2-3), avoid sweet-tasting children’s toothpastes that your child may be more apt to swallow, and instead use a pea-sized amount of adult toothpaste like Colgate Total, which contains triclosan with additional antibacterial, anti-tartar, and gum health benefits.
- Supervision during brushing teeth―young children should always be supervised while brushing and taught to spit out rather than to swallow toothpaste. You should brush your child’s teeth until they are 7-8 years old because your child lacks the manual dexterity to do so properly until that age. Brushing should last for two minutes. Once you have observed that your child can properly brush on his/her own, let your child brush independently.
- Flossing―flossing should begin when and where teeth are touching. Back molars usually begin touching at ages 3-4. At this point, food can easily get trapped between the teeth, leading to cavities.
It’s Tooth Fairy time! Around age six, your child will begin to lose primary teeth in the front and will gain permanent teeth in the front and back. Once the teeth start to touch (could be around ages 3–5), you should floss your child’s teeth (flossers work well). Children typically don’t brush along the gumline or on the back teeth, so pay special attention to these problem areas. However, almost 90% of cavities in permanent molars occur in the grooves. Dental sealants are a great way to protect the permanent molars and the other teeth at risk for decay. Sealants are a white coating that is placed over the grooves of the teeth to prevent plaque and food from getting stuck, thereby causing cavities.
Up until your child is seven years old, you should assist him/her while brushing because children often lack the motor skills to correctly brush by themselves. After that, observe your child’s technique, and assist where necessary until he/she can effectively brush without supervision. Brush your teeth at the same time to help teach your child to brush by mimicking you. Although a regular children’s brush is perfectly fine for cleaning teeth, sometimes a children’s electric toothbrush can make the experience more fun for your child, increasing motivation to brush. Once again, toothbrushing should take place twice a day―once in the morning after breakfast and again right before bedtime. Brushing after snacks is ideal, too. At age six and above, brushing should take two minutes each time.
When brushing your teeth and your child’s teeth, angle the toothbrush at 45 degrees towards the gumline, using small circular strokes. Brush the front of the teeth, behind the teeth, and the chewing surfaces of teeth. Don’t forget to also brush the tongue to remove potential bad breath bacteria and other harmful microorganisms. Take two full minutes to properly brush.
During these ages and older, children become more active with sports, and dental injuries are very common. Ask our team about mouthguards to protect your child’s teeth during sports.
By 12-13 years of age, all of your child’s baby teeth are usually gone, and all of the permanent “adult” teeth have grown in, except for the third molars (wisdom teeth), which most often arrive by age 21. As teens grow more independent and have further control of their diet and habits, it is common to see an increase in cavities. Soda, candy, and the lack of consistent or effective brushing and flossing is typically the culprit. Self-awareness also becomes more prominent, and your teen may notice if they have discolored or crooked teeth. Talk with our team regarding options for both braces and for whitening.
Additionally, we take a panoramic X-ray of your child’s jaws to check the development of third molars (wisdom teeth) and, when indicated, will refer your child to an oral surgeon for their removal. Be sure to let our office know if your child is experiencing pain from their wisdom teeth.
Unfortunately, substance abuse may also begin during this stage (90% of adult smokers began before age 19), so monitor your child for signs of alcohol or tobacco use. Finally, eating disorders are also common, and in addition to many other serious issues, can damage the teeth. Please talk with our office regarding assistance with any of these common issues of adolescence.
During these ages, children also become more active with sports, and dental injuries are very common. Ask our team about mouthguards to protect your child’s teeth during sports.
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