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Dental care - child

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Definition

Proper care of your child's teeth and gums includes brushing and rinsing, routine dental exams, and any necessary treatments such as fluoride, extractions, fillings, or braces and other orthodontics.

See also: Dental care - adult

Information

Healthy teeth and gums are essential to your child's overall good health. Injured, diseased, or poorly developed teeth can result in poor nutrition, painful and dangerous infections, and problems with speech development and self-image.

CARING FOR AN INFANT'S TEETH

Even though newborns and infants do not have teeth, it is important to take care of their mouth and gums. Follow these tips:

  • Use a damp washcloth to wipe your infant's gums after each meal.
  • Do NOT put your infant or young child to bed with a bottle of milk, juice, or sugar water. Use only water for bedtime bottles.
  • Begin using a soft toothbrush instead of a washcloth to clean your child's teeth as soon as his first tooth shows (usually between 5 - 8 months of age).
  • Ask your pediatrician if your infant needs fluoride added to his diet.

THE FIRST TRIP TO THE DENTIST

  • Your child's first visit to the dentist should be between the time the first tooth appears (5 - 8 months) and the time when all the primary teeth are visible (before 2 1/2 years).
  • Many dentists recommend a "trial" visit to expose the child to the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the office before the actual examination.
  • Children who are accustomed to having their gums wiped and teeth brushed every day will be more comfortable going to the dentist.

CARING FOR A CHILD'S TEETH

  • The child's teeth and gums should be brushed at least twice each day and especially before bed. Electric tooth brushes clean teeth better than manual ones.
  • Take your child to a dentist every 6 months. Let the dentist know if your child thumb sucks or breathes through the mouth.
  • Teach your child how to play safe and what to do if a tooth is broken or knocked out.
  • When your child gets permanent teeth, he or she should begin flossing each evening before bed.
  • When the child reaches the teens, braces or extractions may be needed to prevent long-term problems.

If your child loses an adult (permanent) tooth during a fall or other injury, see broken or knocked out tooth for first aid instructions. If you act quickly, you can often save the tooth.

References

Douglass JM. A practical guide to infant oral health. Am Fam Physician. 2004;70:2113-2120.

Hale KJ; American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Pediatric Dentistry. Oral health risk assessment timing and establishment of the dental home. Pediatrics. 2003;111:1113-1116.

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