With only a few teeth now showing in your baby’s mouth, you might think it’s too early to schedule their first dental visit. But you should, and here’s why: tooth decay.
Although adults are more likely to contend with dental disease, the exception for children is tooth decay. One kind of decay, early childhood caries (ECC), can wreak havoc in children’s primary teeth. While your child may or may not be at high risk for ECC, it’s better to err on the side of caution and begin regular checkups by their first birthday.
Since primary teeth eventually give way for permanent teeth, it may not seem that important to protect them from decay. But despite their short lifespan primary teeth can have a long-term effect on dental health for one primary reason: They’re placeholders for the permanent teeth that will eventually replace them.
If they’re lost prematurely to decay, nearby teeth can drift into the resulting open space. This can crowd out the intended permanent tooth, which may then erupt out of place (or not at all, remaining impacted within the gums). Protecting primary teeth from decay—or treating them if they do become infected—reduces this risk to the permanent teeth.
Besides regular cleanings, dentists can do other things to protect your child’s teeth from decay. Applying a high strength fluoride solution to teeth can help strengthen enamel against acid attack, the precursor to decay. Sealants on the biting surfaces of teeth deprive bacterial plaque of nooks and crannies to hide, especially in back molars and pre-molars.
You can also help prevent decay in your child’s primary teeth by starting a brushing regimen as soon as teeth start appearing. Also, limit sugar intake by restricting sugary foods to mealtime and not sending a child to bed with a sugary liquid-filled bottle (including juices or breast milk). And avoid possible transfers of oral bacteria from your mouth to theirs by not drinking from the same cup or placing any object in your mouth that might go in theirs.
Tooth decay can have long-term consequences on your child’s dental health. But by working together with your dentist you can help ensure this damaging disease doesn’t damage their teeth.
If you would like more information on tooth decay in primary teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
For most people, raising kids is an expensive proposition. (A recent estimate by the U.S. Department of Agriculture puts the average tab at almost a quarter of a million dollars before they turn 18.) But if you’ve been keeping up with parenting news lately, you may have come across an even more jaw-dropping fact: According to a survey by the Sunstar group, a maker of oral hygiene products, when the tooth fairy makes a pickup in New York City, she (or her parental surrogate) leaves an average of $13.25 per tooth!
That compares to $9.69 per tooth in Los Angeles, $5.85 in Chicago and $5.02 in Boston — and it’s a far higher rate than most other polls have shown. But it brings up a good question: What's a baby tooth really worth? Ask a dentist, and you may get an answer that surprises you: A lot more than that!
A child’s primary (baby) teeth usually begin coming in around the age of 6 to 9 months, and start making their exits about the time a child reaches six years; by the age of 10 – 13, they’re usually all gone. But even though they will not last forever, baby teeth are far from disposable — and they deserve the same conscientious care as adult teeth. Here’s why:
Primary teeth play the same important roles in kids’ mouths as permanent teeth do in the mouths of adults: they allow kids to bite and chew effectively, speak normally and smile brightly. Their proper functioning allows children to get good nutrition and develop positive social interactions as they grow toward adolescence — and those are things it’s difficult to put a price tag on.
But that’s not all baby teeth are good for. Each one of those little pearly-whites serves as a guide for the permanent tooth that will succeed it: It holds a space open in the jaw and doesn’t let go until the grown-up tooth is ready to erupt (emerge) from beneath the gums. If primary teeth are lost too soon, due to disease, decay or accidents, bite problems (malocclusions) can develop.
A malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite) can result when permanent teeth don’t erupt in their proper locations. “Crowding” is a common type of malocclusion that can occur when baby teeth have been lost prematurely. The new, permanent teeth may come in too close together because neighboring teeth have shifted into the gap left by the prematurely lost tooth, creating an obstruction for the incoming teeth. In other cases, the permanent teeth may emerge in rotated or misplaced positions.
Bite problems make teeth harder to clean and thus more prone to disease; they may also cause embarrassment and social difficulties. The good news is that it’s generally possible to fix malocclusion: orthodontists do it every day. The bad news: It will almost certainly cost more than $13.25 per tooth. Alternatively, baby teeth in danger of being lost too soon can often be saved via root canal treatment or other procedures.
We’re not advocating giving big money to toddlers — but we do want to make a point: The tooth fairy’s payout: a few dollars. A lifetime of good checkups and bright smiles: incalculable.
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods. Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”