1. What is a Pediatric Dentist?
The pediatric dentist has two extra years of specialized training and is dedicated to the oral health of children from infancy through the teenage years. The very young, pre-teens, and teenagers all need different approaches in dealing with their behavior, guiding their dental growth and development, and helping them avoid future dental problems. The pediatric dentist is best qualified to meet these needs.
2. Your Child's First Dental Visit
The America Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that the first visit to the pediatric dentist should occur within 6 months following their first tooth eruption, but no later than 1 year of age. You can make the first visit to the dentist enjoyable and positive. Your child should be informed of the visit and told that Dr. Chelsea and her staff will explain all procedures and answer any questions. The less to-do concerning the visit, the better.
It is best if you refrain from using words around your child that might cause unnecessary fear, such as needle, pull, drill or hurt. Pediatric dental offices make a practice of using words that convey the same message, but are pleasant and non-frightening to the child.
3. Why are the Primary Teeth so Important?
It is very important to maintain the health of the primary teeth. Neglected cavities can and frequently do lead to problems which affect developing permanent teeth and overall general health. Primary teeth, or baby-teeth are important for (1) proper chewing and eating, (2) providing space for the permanent teeth and guiding them into the correct position, and (3) permitting normal development of the jaw bones and muscles. Primary teeth also affect the development of speech and add to an attractive appearance. While the front 4 teeth last until 6-7 years of age, the back teeth (cuspids and molars) aren't replaced until age 10-13.
4. Dental X-rays
Radiographs (X-Rays) are a vital and necessary part of your child's dental diagnostic process. Without them, certain dental conditions can and will be missed.
X-Rays detect much more than cavities. For example, X-Rays may be needed to survey erupting teeth, diagnose bone diseases, evaluate the results of an injury, or plan orthodontic treatment. X-Rays allow dentists to diagnose and treat health conditions that cannot be detected during a clinical examination. If dental problems are found and treated early, dental care is more comfortable for your child and more affordable for you.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends X-rays and examinations every six months for children with a high risk of tooth decay. On average, most pediatric dentists request radiographs approximately once a year. Approximately every 3 years it is a good idea to obtain a complete set of radiographs, either a panoramic and bitewings or periapicals and bitewings.
At Seaside Smiles, we are particularly careful to minimize the exposure of our patients to radiation. With contemporary safeguards, the amount of radiation received in a dental X-ray examination is extremely small. And with the use of the newest digital x-ray technology (requiring a smaller dose of radiation than the standard x-ray films), the risk is practically negligible. In fact, the dental X-rays represent a far smaller risk than an undetected and untreated dental problem. Lead body aprons and shields will also protect your child. With both digital x-rays and the proper shielding you can be assured that your child will receive the smallest amount of radiation exposure.
5. Care of your Child's Teeth
Begin daily brushing as soon as the child's first tooth erupts. A pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste can be used after the child is old enough not to swallow it. By age 4 or 5, children should be able to brush their own teeth twice a day with supervision until about age seven to make sure they are doing a thorough job. However, each child is different. Dr. Chelsea can help you determine whether the child has the skill level to brush properly.
Proper brushing removes plaque from the inner, outer and chewing surfaces. When teaching children to brush, start along gum line with a soft bristle brush in a gentle circular motion. Brush the outer surfaces of each tooth, upper and lower. Repeat the same method on the inside surfaces and chewing surfaces of all the teeth. Finish by brushing the tongue to help freshen breath and remove bacteria.
Flossing removes plaque between the teeth where a toothbrush can't reach. Flossing should begin when any two teeth touch. You may wish to floss the child's teeth until he or she can do it alone. Use about 18 inches of floss, winding most of it around the middle fingers of both hands. Hold the floss lightly between the thumbs and forefingers. Use a gentle, back-and-forth motion to guide the floss between the teeth. Curve the floss into a C-shape and slide it into the space between the gum and tooth until you feel resistance. Gently scrape the floss against the side of the tooth. Repeat this procedure on each tooth. Don't forget the backs of the last four teeth.
6. Good Diet = Healthy Teeth
Healthy eating habits lead to healthy teeth. Like the rest of the body, the teeth, bones and the soft tissues of the mouth need a well-balanced diet. Children should eat a variety of foods from the five major food groups. Most snacks that children eat can lead to cavity formation. The more frequently a child snacks, the greater the chance for tooth decay. How long food remains in the mouth also plays a role. For example, hard candy and breath mints stay in the mouth a long time, which cause longer acid attacks on tooth enamel. If your child must snack, choose nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheese which are healthier and better for children's teeth.
7. How Do I Prevent Cavities
Good oral hygiene removes bacteria and the left over food particles that combine to create cavities. For infants, use a wet gauze or clean washcloth to wipe the plaque from teeth and gums. Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle filled with anything other than water. See Baby Bottle Tooth Decay below for more info.
For older children, brush their teeth at least twice a day. Also, watch the number of snacks containing sugar that you give your children.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends six month visits to the pediatric dentist beginning at your child's first birthday. Routine visits will start your child on a lifetime of good dental health.
Dr. Chelsea may also recommend protective sealants or home fluoride treatments for your child. Sealants can be applied to your child's molars to prevent decay on hard to clean surfaces.
8. What is a Sealant?
A sealant is a clear or shaded plastic material that is applied to the chewing surfaces (grooves) of the back teeth (premolars and molars), where four out of five cavities in children are found. This sealant acts as a barrier to food, plaque and acid, thus protecting the decay-prone areas of the teeth.
9. Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (Early Childhood Caries)
One serious form of decay among young children is "baby bottle tooth decay". This condition is caused by frequent and long exposures of an infant's teeth to liquids that contain sugar and is associated with lack of oral hygiene. Among these liquids are milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juice and other sweetened drinks.
Putting a baby to bed for a nap or at night with a bottle other than water can cause serious and rapid tooth decay. Sweet liquid pools around the child's teeth giving plaque bacteria an opportunity to produce acids that attack tooth enamel. 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.
After each feeding, wipe the baby's gums and teeth with a damp washcloth or gauze pad to remove plaque. The easiest way to do this is to sit down, place the child's head in your lap or lay the child on a dressing table or the floor. Whatever position you use, be sure you can see into the child's mouth easily.
10. When will my Baby Start Getting Teeth?
Teething, the process of baby (primary) teeth coming through the gums into the mouth, is variable among individual babies. Some babies get their teeth early and some get them late. In general the first baby teeth are usually the lower front (anterior) teeth and usually begin erupting between the age of 6-8 months. See FAQ - Eruption of your Child's Teeth for more details.
11. Eruption of your Child's Teeth
Children's teeth begin forming before birth. As early as 4 months, the first primary (or baby) teeth to erupt through the gums are the lower central incisors, followed closely by the upper central incisors. Although all 20 primary teeth usually appear by age 3, the pace and order of their eruption varies.
Permanent teeth begin appearing around age 6, starting with the first molars and lower central incisors. This process continues until approximately age 21. Adults have 28 permanent teeth, or up to 32 including the third molars (or wisdom teeth).
12. Dental Emergencies
Toothache: Clean the area of the affected tooth thoroughly. Rinse the mouth vigorously with warm water or use dental floss to dislodge impacted food or debris. DO NOT place aspirin on the gum or on the aching tooth. If face is swollen apply cold compresses. Take the child to a dentist.
Cut or Bitten Tongue, Lip or Cheek: Apply ice to bruised areas. If there is bleeding apply firm but gentle pressure with a gauze or cloth. If bleeding does not stop after 15 minutes or it cannot be controlled by simple pressure, take child to hospital emergency room.
Knocked Out Permanent Tooth: Find the tooth. Handle the tooth by the crown, not the root portion. You may rinse the tooth but DO NOT clean or handle the tooth unnecessarily. Inspect the tooth for fractures. If it is sound, try to reinsert it in the socket. Have the child hold the tooth in place by biting on a gauze. If you cannot reinsert the tooth, transport the tooth in a cup containing the patient's saliva or milk. The tooth may also be carried in the patient's mouth. The patient must see a dentist IMMEDIATELY! Time is a critical factor in saving the tooth.
Fluoride is an element, which has been shown to be beneficial to teeth. However, too little or too much fluoride can be detrimental to the teeth. Little or no fluoride will not strengthen the teeth to help them resist cavities. Excessive fluoride ingestion by preschool-aged children can lead to dental fluorosis, which is a chalky white to even brown discoloration of the permanent teeth. Many children often get more fluoride than their parents realize and that's why we recommend a small pea-size amount of toothpaste. Being aware of a child's potential sources of fluoride can help parents prevent the possibility of dental fluorosis.
Some of these sources are:
- Too much fluoridated toothpaste at an early age.
- The inappropriate use of fluoride supplements.
- Hidden sources of fluoride in the child's diet.
Two and three-year olds may not be able to expectorate (spit out) fluoride-containing toothpaste when brushing. As a result, these youngsters may ingest an excessive amount of fluoride during tooth brushing. Toothpaste ingestion during this critical period of permanent tooth development is the greatest risk factor in the development of fluorosis.
Excessive and inappropriate intake of fluoride supplements may also contribute to fluorosis. Fluoride drops and tablets, as well as fluoride fortified vitamins should not be given to infants younger than six months of age. After that time, fluoride supplements should only be given to children after all of the sources of ingested fluoride have been accounted for and upon the recommendation of your pediatrician or pediatric dentist.
Certain foods contain high levels of fluoride, especially: powdered concentrate infant formula, soy-based infant formula, infant dry cereals, creamed spinach, and infant chicken products. Please read the label or contact the manufacturer. Some beverages also contain high levels of fluoride, especially: decaffeinated teas, white grape juices, and juice drinks manufactured in fluoridated cities. Blending the syrup, carbonation with the city water supply often makes soft drinks at fast food restaurants, so if fluoride is in the water this is another source.
Parents can take the following steps to decrease the risk of fluorosis in their children's teeth:
- Use baby tooth cleanser on the toothbrush in the very young child.
- Place only a pea-sized drop of children's toothpaste on the brush when brushing.
- Account for all of the sources of ingested fluoride before requesting fluoride supplements from your child's physician or pediatric dentist.
- Avoid giving any fluoride-containing supplements to infants until they are 6 months old.
- Obtain fluoride level test results for your drinking water before giving fluoride supplements to your child (check with local water utilities).
14. What's the Best Toothpaste for my Child?
Tooth brushing is one of the most important tasks for good oral health. Many toothpastes, and/or tooth polishes, however, can damage young smiles. They contain harsh abrasives which can wear away young tooth enamel. When looking for a toothpaste for your child make sure to pick one that is recommended by the American Dental Association. These toothpastes have undergone testing to insure they are safe to use.
Remember, children should spit out toothpaste after brushing to avoid getting too much fluoride. If too much fluoride is ingested, a condition known as fluorosis can occur. If your child is too young or unable to spit out toothpaste, consider providing them with a fluoride free toothpaste, using no toothpaste, or using only a "pea size" amount of toothpaste.
15. Does your Child Grind his Teeth at Night? (Bruxism)
Parents are often concerned about the nocturnal grinding of teeth (bruxism). Often, the first indication is the noise created by the child grinding on their teeth during sleep. Or, the parent may notice wear (teeth getting shorter) to the dentition. One theory as to the cause involves a psychological component. Stress due to a new environment, divorce, changes at school; etc. can influence a child to grind their teeth. Another theory relates to pressure in the inner ear at night. If there are pressure changes (like in an airplane during take-off and landing when people are chewing gum, etc. to equalize pressure) the child will grind by moving his jaw to relieve this pressure.
The majority of cases of pediatric bruxism do not require any treatment. If excessive wear of the teeth (attrition) is present, then a mouth guard (night guard) may be indicated. The negatives to a mouth guard are the possibility of choking if the appliance becomes dislodged during sleep and it may interfere with growth of the jaws. The positive is obvious by preventing wear to the primary dentition.
The good news is most children outgrow bruxism. The grinding gets less between the ages 6-9 and children tend to stop grinding between ages 9-12. If you suspect bruxism, discuss this with your pediatrician or pediatric dentist.
16. Sedation Options
Seaside Smiles offers several methods of conscious sedation for your child's dental treatments. A combination of nitrous oxide or laughing gas along with a local anesthetic is safe and effective even with some of our most nervous little patients. Seaside Smiles also offers a mild form of sedation called Conscious Sedation for more advanced cases. The most comprehensive sedation option we offer is an IV Sedation where a Board Certified Anesthesiologist comes into our office to assist us with these full-mouth restorative cases. Ask Dr. Chelsea about these and other options at the time of your appointment. We want your child to be as comfortable and safe as possible while at our office and we're proud to be able to offer different forms of sedation to best address each child's unique needs.
17. Thumb Sucking
Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck. It may make them feel secure and happy or provide a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb sucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep.
Thumb sucking that persists beyond 4 years of age can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. How intensely a child sucks on fingers or thumbs will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.
Children should cease thumb sucking by the time they're 4 years old. Usually, children stop between the ages of two and four. Peer pressure causes many school-aged children to stop.
Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb sucking. They can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and modified more easily than the thumb or finger habit. If you have concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier, consult with Dr. Chelsea.
A few suggestions to help your child get through thumb sucking:
- Instead of scolding children for thumb sucking, praise them when they are not.
- Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking.
- Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when their parents provide comfort.
- Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents.
- Your pediatric dentist can encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue.
- If these approaches don't work, remind the children of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. Your pediatric dentist may recommend the use of a mouth appliance.
18. What is the Best Time for Orthodontic Treatment?
Developing malocclusions, or bad bites, can be recognized as early as 2-3 years of age. Often, early steps can be taken to reduce the need for major orthodontic treatment at a later age.
Stage I -- Early Treatment: This period of treatment encompasses ages 2 to 6 years. At this young age, we are concerned with underdeveloped dental arches, the premature loss of primary teeth, and harmful habits such as finger or thumb sucking. Treatment initiated in this stage of development is often very successful and many times, though not always, can eliminate the need for future orthodontic/orthopedic treatment.
Stage II -- Mixed Dentition: This period covers the ages of 6 to 12 years, with the eruption of the permanent incisor (front) teeth and 6 year molars. Treatment concerns deal with jaw malrelationships and dental realignment problems. This is an excellent stage to start treatment, when indicated, as your child's hard and soft tissues are usually very responsive to orthodontic or orthopedic forces.
Stage III -- Adolescent Dentition: This stage deals with the permanent teeth and the development of the final bite relationship.
19. Mouth Guards
When a child begins to participate in recreational activities and organized sports, injuries can occur. A properly fitted mouth guard, or mouth protector, is an important piece of athletic gear that can help protect your child's smile, and should be used during any activity that could result in a blow to the face or mouth.
Mouth guards help prevent broken teeth, and injuries to the lips, tongue, face or jaw. A properly fitted mouth guard will stay in place while your child is wearing it, making it easy for them to talk and breathe.
Ask Dr. Chelsea about custom and store-bought mouth protectors.