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Dental Health & Kids: A Guide for Every Age

oral health, kids' teeth, teething
Credit: DenisNata | Shutterstock

Oral hygiene and healthy teeth are important at any age, even infancy. Healthy baby teeth guide permanent teeth into place correctly, help properly shape babies’ faces, and help kids chew and eat properly and speak clearly. Unhealthy teeth can affect kids’ and babies’ overall health, causing them pain and to have difficulty eating, which can lead to problems in kids’ general development. Tooth decay in baby teeth is the most chronic disease of early childhood. It can lead to damage in permanent teeth, resulting in painful and costly treatments.

This guide will help you learn about keeping your kids’ teeth healthy and strong from infancy on and set them up for a lifetime of healthy teeth and good dental hygiene practices.

Teething

Good oral hygiene for babies begins even before teething starts. As soon as he’s born, parents should wipe their baby’s gums with a soft, damp cloth after feeding. This helps prevent bacteria from building up.

Between 6 and 8 months, your baby should start teething — though some children do not begin teething until later. Teething is often uncomfortable for babies, but there are several things you can do to ease their discomfort, including:

  • Letting them chew on a cool object like a firm rubber teething ring or cold apple (avoid breakable objects and liquid-filled teething rings)
  • Rub their gums with a cool, wet washcloth
  • Feed them soft, cool food like applesauce and yogurt
  • In cases of extreme irritability or discomfort, give them acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Teething gels may help, but don’t use too much.

Do not cut the gums or place alcohol or anything frozen against them. Do not give your baby aspirin or place it against the gums. Avoid teething powders.

Teething can last for a year or more. Babies should have all their teeth in by 30 months.

Tooth brushing for kids

Once your baby’s teeth begin to come in, it’s time to start cleaning them. Use a small, soft toothbrush or a clean, soft cloth. Many dentists recommend cleaning kids’ teeth only with water until they are 2 years old; at that age, switch to a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.

Brush your child’s teeth twice a day for two minutes and pay special attention to the back molars, where cavities tend to develop. Kids will need help brushing until about age 8. To ensure your child learns to brush properly, guide his hand during brushing so that he will experience the correct movement.

Begin flossing your child’s teeth as soon as two teeth that touch appear.

First trip to the dentist

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that all children visit the dentist as soon as their first tooth comes in, or by the age of 1. After that, kids should see the dentist every six months, as should adults. Take your child to a pediatric dentist who will explain what is happening to your child, show him the tools, let him sit on your lap during procedures if he is nervous, and provide prizes at the end of the visit.

The first trip to the dentist is called a “well-baby” visit. The dentist will look for early problems in your child’s teeth and discuss important information about dental hygiene for kids, diet, bottle use and thumb sucking habits.

Baby teeth

Also called primary teeth, milk teeth, and deciduous teeth, baby teeth are important to a child’s healthy development. Not only do they help kids chew and speak properly, but also they hold space in the jaw for permanent teeth to develop and eventually grow in.

Cavities in baby teeth are among the most common children’s health disorders. In addition to brushing, flossing and trips to the dentist, parents should avoid giving kids too much sugar or starch, which can cause tooth decay.

During naptime or at bedtime, give your baby a bottle filled with only water, as filling the bottle with juice, formula or even breast milk and letting your baby suck on it during sleep can cause tooth decay. The same goes for sippy cups: if your child likes to carry around a sippy cup, keep it filled with water. Try to have your child switch from sippy to open cups around his first birthday.

Usually, children can safely suck their thumbs, pacifiers, or fingers until about age 4 with no tooth decay problems. After age 4, tell the dentist if your child still has a sucking habit.

Teeth grinding in children

Medically termed bruxism, teeth grinding and jaw clenching is a common problem for children, affecting at least 20 percent of kids. It usually occurs during sleep or when a child is under stress. Episodes last for about four seconds and happen approximately six times per hour during the night.

Kids may grind their teeth for different reasons, including improper alignment of jaws, as a response to pain such as teething, and stress. Studies have shown that kids with ADHD, behavioral problems, cerebral palsy, and those taking certain medications are more likely to grind their teeth or clench their jaws.

If your child grinds or clenches his teeth, you should take him to the dentist. Grinding teeth often has no adverse effects and most kids grow out of it by adolescence. Nevertheless, it can cause problems and should be treated. Minor problems are:

  • Headaches
  • Earaches
  • Painful chewing
  • Sore face or jaw
  • Grinding sound annoying other family members

More serious consequences include:

  • Worn down tooth enamel
  • Chipped teeth
  • Increased temperature sensitivity
  • Facial pain and jaw problems, such as TMJ (temporomandibular joint disease)

To help stop your child from grinding or clenching teeth, the dentist may suggest a mouth guard specially molded to your child’s mouth. If teeth grinding is the result of stress, try talking with your child about his feelings regularly and doing soothing activities before bed.

Common questions about losing baby teeth

How many teeth do children have?

Kids have 20 baby teeth. Adults grow 32 teeth, so eventually your child will grow 32 teeth. This usually happens by the teenage years, though everyone has a different timeline. Sometimes adults have their wisdom teeth removed. If they are all removed, adults have 28 teeth.

When do kids lose their teeth?

Kids typically start losing baby teeth around age 6. Girls often start to lose baby teeth before boys. Most kids will have lost all their baby teeth by age 13.

Baby teeth usually fall out in the order that they first appeared: two bottom front teeth, two top front teeth, lateral incisors, first/front molars, canines and second/back molars.

How many teeth do kids lose?

Kids will lose 20 teeth — all of their baby teeth — over the course of about seven years.

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