For many parents knowing when and how to introduce their child to caring for their teeth and gums can be a daunting prospect. It is really important to establish good oral hygiene habits early and to associate visits to the dentists as a positive experience.
Good oral health practices start long before your child's first teeth even make an appearance, which is usually between 6 and 10 months of age.
For example, it is important to avoid allowing your infant to fall asleep with a bottle. Not only does this present an increased risk of choking, but this may set up a habit that can be difficult to break when your baby's first teeth appear. When a baby falls asleep on the bottle a small amount of milk can remain in the mouth which can lead to tooth decay.
If your child's earliest visits to the dentist are to treat decayed and painful teeth they are unlikely to associate a visit to the dentist as a positive experience. This may be something that persists through into adulthood.
At Roma Street Dental we have many patients that have become parents for the first time and as their baby grows and develops we love to be part of creating a healthy and happy dental experience with them. We encourage our new parents to bring their their babies along when they are receiving their own dental treatment. This gives them a chance to have their child sit on their lap in the dental chair and to become familiar with a strange, new environment while in the comfort and security of their parent's arms.
As they get a little older we'll have them sit in the chair on their own and we'll show them some of the equipment that we use, such as the protective glasses, the light, and the spittoon.
Even before your baby's teeth appear you can start caring for her gums by cleaning them with a clean, soft cloth. Once her teeth start to arrive you can continue to use a soft cloth to clean the teeth by gently wiping the front and back surfaces of the teeth.
Teething is almost always associated with a level of discomfort for your child. Once your child's teeth start to come through they are likely to be irritable, having difficulty sleeping, have red and swollen gums, excessive drooling and they'll try to suck or chew everything they can get into their mouth!
Once your baby's teeth have come through they will need to be cleaned twice a day. At this stage it is safe to introduce a toothbrush, but make sure one that is specifically designed for this stage of your child's dental development. It should be small with soft bristles.
Up until your baby is 18 months old it is generally recommend to use plain water to brush your baby's teeth. After this it is safe to introduce a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. It is important to use a toothpaste that is specifically formulated for toddlers as these contain the appropriate level of fluoride for this stage of your child's development. Brushing should be done twice a day; once in the morning and once before going to bed.
One of the unexpected consequences of your child developing teeth is that you may discover they start to grind their teeth.
There are a number of possible causes of teeth grinding (bruxism). It may simply be that your baby is testing out their new teeth, especially if they are grinding while they are awake.
It may also be a response to perceived stress or anxiety or due to an unstable bite where your child is trying to find a comfortable position for their jaw as they lose their baby teeth and their adult teeth continue to erupt.
Other potential causes are an airway obstruction where the jaw tries to find a better position to open the airway in children who snore, mouth breathe or have sleep apnoea (where breathing stops intermittently). In these situation removing enlarged tonsils and adenoids may decrease grinding.
Finally, some medications such as those used to treat ADHD, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, down syndrome and depression can also cause grinding.
Teeth grinding is usually not something to be overly concerned about and in most cases children outgrow the habit between 9 and 12 years of age. However further investigation is needed if the child has severe tooth wear, headaches, has sleep apnoea, chronic snoring, mouth breathing or blocked nose. If you are at all concerned, speak to your dental professional.