During pregnancy, a woman’s hormone levels rise and gingivitis is common. Severe gum disease in the mother has been linked to babies with low birth weight and premature births. Additionally, baby teeth crowns develop in the fetus and chewing surfaces of the permanent molars begin to form during pregnancy. A balanced diet and use of prenatal vitamins help healthy teeth develop, while poor nutrition causes tooth decay.
Cavity-causing bacteria can be transmitted to an infant in utero, so it is important to reduce plaque and have decay-free teeth prior to the child’s birth.
If you are pregnant, be sure to visit your dentist regularly and have your teeth cleaned more often. At birth, bacteria may also be transmitted by a mother kissing her newborn. Your dentist may recommend the use of chlorhexidine mouth rinse or products containing xylitol.
To prepare your child for eventual tooth cleaning, we recommend cleaning your baby’s mouth with a clean, damp washcloth before he or she has teeth. Avoid putting your baby to bed with a bottle, sippy cup or while breastfeeding. This habit may cause cavities when your baby’s teeth grow in especially if milk, formula, juice or other sugary liquid is used. Only water should be put in a bottle or cup for your child if they cannot fall asleep without it. After breastfeeding your baby, wipe the gums with a damp washcloth as soon as he or she falls asleep and stops sucking. Sharing items such as spoons, pacifiers, toothbrushes and toys can spread cavity-causing germs between caregiver and baby and between babies.
It is normal for a baby to cry during tooth-brushing. Babies also cry when they are bathed, dressed or changed. Remain calm and methodical while continuing to clean your child’s teeth properly.
With time, he or she will appreciate your gentle attention to their teeth and will allow you to clean without protest.
Once your child’s teeth begin erupting, you should begin wiping them with a moist washcloth.
Start a habit of brushing twice daily when the first tooth grows in. Use soft-bristled toothbrushes designed for babies with water or a very small amount of non-fluoridated toothpaste. Fluoride toothpaste may be used when your child can effectively spit. Consult your pediatrician or pediatric dentist about other sources of fluoride supplementation for your child.
You should use a pea-sized amount of a non-fluoride toothpaste until your child is able to spit it out.
For most toddlers, getting them to brush their teeth may be challenging.
Suggestions for making tooth-brushing easier include:
- Establish a tooth-brushing routine
- Let your child brush your teeth at the same time
- Let your child pick out a few toothbrushes with a favorite character, and then allow a choice of which one he or she wants to use each time (this will give your child some feeling of control over the situation)
- Allow your child to brush his or her own teeth first (and then you get a turn)
- Read some children’s books about tooth-brushing
- Have everyone in the household brush their teeth at the same time
ADOLESCENCE AND ORAL CARE
As children transition into adulthood, their dental needs change.
There is evidence which shows how periodontal disease may increase during adolescence due to lack of motivation to practice routine oral hygiene. Children who maintain good oral health habits up until their teen years are more likely to continue brushing and flossing than children who were not taught proper oral care.
Dental cavities increase in teens because of changes in dietary habits, lack of motivation for good oral hygiene habits, increased demands in school, work and social arenas and experimental drug use. These topics are discussed with the dental assistant and doctor according to individual need.
Young adults differ from children in their overall dental needs. Many of our adolescent patients have orthodontic appliances and are taught how to prevent cavities that can easily develop around the braces. Wisdom tooth removal is a big concern for this age group. The dentists at Dentistry for Kids can provide literature and ease the fears of oral surgery. Sealants are recommended when all the permanent teeth erupt to protect the chewing surfaces. Some teens require mouthguards for sports or more involved treatment considerations such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction.
These topics and more are addressed and planned for with our teen patients and their parents. We have found motivating teens to be knowledgeable about their own dental needs leads to long-term health of permanent teeth into adulthood.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
Early diagnosis is important for successful treatment of periodontal diseases. Therefore, it is important for children to receive a periodontal examination as part of their routine dental visits. Be aware if your child has an advanced form of periodontal disease, this may be an early sign of systemic disease. A general medical evaluation should be considered for children who exhibit severe periodontitis, especially if it appears resistant to therapy.
An important step in the fight against periodontal disease is to establish good oral health habits with your child early on. Begin brushing your child’s teeth with non-fluoridated toothpaste at 12 months old. When the space between your child’s teeth begins to close, it is important to begin flossing.
Serve as a good role model by practicing good oral healthcare yourself. Be sure to maintain regular cleaning and exam visits.
Schedule regular dental visits for family checkups, periodontal evaluations and cleanings.
Check your child’s mouth for the signs of periodontal disease, including bleeding gums, swollen and bright red gums, gums that are receding away from the teeth and bad breath.
If your child currently has poor oral health habits, work with your child to change these now. It’s much easier to modify these habits in a child than in an adult. Since your child models behavior after you, you should serve as a positive role model in your oral hygiene habits. A healthy smile, nice breath and strong teeth all contribute positively to a young person’s confidence and self-esteem.