When it comes to caring for an infant, most parents are well aware of the need for routine pediatrician visits as part of their baby’s healthcare regimen. What’s less recognized is the importance that family dentistry plays in maintaining the health of your child. For optimal oral health, the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that dental visits begin with the appearance of a child’s first tooth as an effective way to kick-start a lifelong program of preventing dental disease.
One Baby Tooth + One Pediatric Dental Visit = Zero Cavities
“The ‘first-tooth visit’ lets the pediatric dentist check for proper oral and facial development, see if the teeth are growing in properly, and detect early tooth decay,” says H. Pitts Hinson, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). “It also gives the dentist a chance to walk parents through a complete program of home dental care for the child.”
Tooth decay, even in the earliest stages of life, can have serious implications for a child’s long-term health and well-being – and it’s becoming more of a problem every day. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comparing the dental health of Americans in 1988-1994 and 1999-2002 found a 15.2 percent increase in cavities among two- to five-year olds. In addition, the U.S. Surgeon General has identified tooth decay as the most common childhood disease.
A possible contributor to this trend is the fact that only three out of five children visit a dentist at least once a year. While parents may avoid taking a child to the dentist to save money, studies show that children who have their first dental visit before age one have 40 percent lower dental costs in their first five years than children who don’t, making preventive care a sound health and economic decision.
Without preventive care, the impact of tooth decay on child development can be striking. A study in Pediatric Dentistry showed that children with cavities were significantly more likely to weigh less than 80 percent of their ideal body weight. Even more disturbing is evidence that the effects of poor oral health may be felt for a lifetime. Emerging research suggests that improper oral hygiene may increase a child’s risk of having low-birth-weight babies, developing heart disease, or suffering a stroke as an adult.
The Significance of Baby Teeth
Despite the fact that permanent adult teeth eventually replace baby teeth, it is still important that baby teeth remain healthy and in place until they’re lost naturally. They serve several critical functions, including:
- Fostering good nutrition by permitting proper chewing
- aiding speech development
- helping permanent teeth by saving space for them
- creating self-esteem – a healthy smile helps children feel good about how they look to others
No one is better equipped – at home or in general family dentistry – to care for primary teeth than pediatric dentists. Considered the foremost experts in child dental health, pediatric dentists complete at least two years of advanced training after dental school, preparing them to address the unique needs of infants, children and adolescents – including those with special healthcare requirements. Even their offices are designed with children in mind. Having the first dental visit in such a pleasant environment before the onset of any tooth problems establishes trust and confidence in children towards dental care that can carry over into adulthood. It both helps children feel good about visiting the dentist and encourages them to care for their own teeth.
In addition to regular dental visits, there are many things parents can do to help their children prevent tooth decay:
- Brush your child’s gums twice a day with a soft cloth or baby toothbrush and water even before the first tooth appears.
- Talk to your pediatric dentist about your child’s fluoride needs. Infants require fluoride to help developing teeth grow strong, and children who primarily drink bottled water may not be getting the fluoride they need.
- If you must put your child to sleep with a bottle, use nothing but water – other beverages can damage teeth, leading to cavities.
- Never dip a pacifier into honey or anything sweet before giving it to a baby.
- The best times for your child to brush are after breakfast and before bed.
- Limit frequency of snacking, which can increase a child’s risk of developing cavities.
- Take good care of your own teeth. Studies show that babies and small children can “catch” cavity-causing bacteria from their parents.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about pediatric dentistry or to schedule a smile consultation with one of our doctors.