Baby Teeth Need Tender, Loving Care
 
Dentists want to see kids within 6 months of first tooth
by Jason Hidalgo, Gannett News Service, February 27, 2003

You won't see many things as cute as the first, budding signs of baby teeth. Solitary pearly whites engulfed in a wall of pink - it might look downright goofy when seen in adults, but in kids? It usually means time to bring out the camera and call the relatives.

If you happen to be one of the proud parents going "goo-goo-ga-ga" over this toothy event in your baby's life, there's another person you might want to call, too. Dental experts suggest that getting your baby to a dentist within six months of the first tooth's eruption will help ensure that your baby's teeth sprout to a good, healthy start.

Chances are, your baby won't have serious problems at that time. But the first visit helps as far as educating parents on proper tooth care and maybe even catching risk factors that might contribute to problems in the future, says Luz Molina, a pediatric dentist.

"For example, if a parent or caretaker has lots of decay, there's a greater chance for the baby to get decay, too," Molina says. "You can actually infect a baby with that bacteria."

For 45-year-old Scott Moller, taking his kids to see the dentist already has paid off in terms of laying a foundation for his kids' dental health. Moller's especially happy that making his kids brush doesn't have to be a struggle, largely because of the dental tips he got from his kids' visits.

Depending on a child's risk factors, parents are encouraged to bring their kids in every six months after the first visit. Even if something isn't wrong, getting kids in early and often to the dentist's office also offers another advantage, experts said - kids will be less likely to develop a fear of the dental chair.

"One of the biggest problems we see is that many kids don't show up until they have a large cavity in their molar and it's hurting them," says dentist Jason Champagne. "That's the first trip they get with the dentist, and they start associating (dentists) with pain."

Another problem is the belief among some parents that because baby teeth are temporary, then it's not such a bad thing if a few of them don't end up in such good shape. Dentists, though, stress that baby teeth aren't simply temporary fixes to tide your kid over until permanent teeth come out.

Baby teeth, for example, hold the space for adult teeth to come in, Champagne says. If cavities form in baby teeth, the width of that space decreases, leading to possible orthodontic issues when the permanent teeth come out.

And even though baby teeth are temporary, they still are going to be around for a long time, Molina says. Some kids don't lose their last baby molar until age 12, so it's still important to care of them, she says.

"If any of the baby teeth gets tooth decay at an early stage, two things can happen," Molina says. "The baby tooth can get infected and the child ends up with an abscess. It also can affect the development of the permanent tooth. That's why it's important to keep baby teeth healthy."

Parents can get a good lead on their children's dental health by starting even before the teeth come out. One thing parents can do is wipe the gums with a clean, warm washcloth.

Once the teeth come out, it's time to take steps to prevent cavities. Besides early and frequent dental visits, the Academy of General Dentistry also suggests the following steps:

Use fluoride: Fluoride strengthens young teeth and prevents tooth decay. Fluoride tablets are available through pediatricians and dentists, Champagne says. Then there's basic fluoride toothpaste. Champagne also assured that as long as parents follow recommended dosages and make sure their children don't swallow toothpaste, overfluoridation should not be an issue.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet and limit sugar intake: Eating sugary carbohydrates leads to 20 minutes of acid production in the mouth - a crucial time for cavity formation.

Help implement a dental-education program at school: Children spend most of their waking hours at school and also are easily influenced by others, which may form bad habits. Parents, however, can use that to their advantage by setting a good example for their kids to follow, Molina says.

Prevent baby-bottle tooth decay: Possible solutions include cutting down feeding times and cleaning your baby's mouth with a soft washcloth and water after each feeding. Don't let a baby sleep with a bottle of juice or milk in his mouth. A good alternative is water.

When bringing a young child to the dentist's office, keep in mind that it's OK for a child to be fidgety. If you bring a 1-year-old to the dentist and he starts crying, that's normal, Molina says.

One thing you shouldn't do is use the dental horror stories to scare the child into taking care of their teeth.

"It's not fair to the kids to give them that kind of fear," Molina says. "Parents who've had a bad experience also have to understand that the technology has changed. And if they take their child in regularly, then they don't have to worry about shots because we don't have to fix the teeth. (The visit) will be nice and easy."