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Pediatric Dentistry

Pediatric Dentistry

What is pediatric dentistry?

Pediatric dentistry refers to the practice of dental medicine on kids throughout their various stages of childhood; that is, from infancy, all the way through their teen years. It is essential for children to know the importance of oral hygiene and begin healthy practices at an early age. From a first tooth — usually popping up between ages 6 to 12 months — to adult wisdom teeth, oral development is vital to each child’s overall health.

When does teething occur? What practices best relieve teething pain?

A child’s first baby tooth tends to arrive between ages 6 to 12 months. Nineteen additional primary teeth will soon follow, and the gums will usually become sore and tender until a child is approximately 3 years old. The lower front teeth routinely arrive first, and upper front teeth start to push through 1 to 2 months after the lower front teeth. It is completely normal for a baby to become fussy or irritable 3 to 5 days before each tooth breaks through, due to soreness and swelling in the gums. Some babies also tend to have excessive drooling and a lack of appetite during these teething periods. To relieve a child of teeth pain, gently massage the irritated gum with a clean finger, the backside of a clean spoon or a cold, wet washcloth. If these solutions do not work, over-the-counter pain relievers are also an option. Teething rings are recommended; however, do not use teething biscuits. Teething biscuits contain sugar, and sugar is unhealthy for developing teeth. Do not use teething gels on children under the age of 2.

When do children start to lose their primary teeth (baby teeth)?

Children lose their primary teeth around the age of 6 or 7 years old. These “baby teeth” are replaced by secondary teeth. The foremost molars are first to arrive, followed by the lower central incisors. This process continues until around age 21. Adults have 28 secondary teeth, or 32 secondary teeth including third molars (wisdom teeth).

When should children start having routine visits to a dentist?

All children need early and regular dental care for proper dental health development. A child’s first visit to the dentist should occur within 6 months of the arrival of the child’s first tooth, but no later than the child’s first birthday. Prior to the appointment, tell the child what to expect. If a parent has concerns about the behavior of his or her child during the visit, he or she should talk to the dentist before scheduling the appointment. It is helpful to let a child visit the dentist one or two times before an initial appointment, just for observation. Let the child meet the dentist and dental hygienic team prior to being examined. Or, let the child see his or her parent be examined first. These types of beginning visits will help build trust and ease the child’s nerves while being examined by a dentist.

Are thumb-sucking and pacifier habits harmful to my child’s teeth?

Initially, no. Thumb-sucking and pacifier habits are not detrimental to a child’s oral health; however, if these habits continue over an extended period of time, a pediatric dentist may recommend a mouth appliance to break the habit.

What can pediatric dentists do differently than general dentists?

Pediatric dentists are as equally qualified as general dentists, completing four years of dental school and two additional years of residency training in dentistry for infants, children, teens and children with special needs. These professionals are responsible for infant oral health exams – including risk assessment for caries in both mother and child – along with preventive dental care, habit counseling (pacifier use and thumb-sucking), early assessment for orthodontic treatments, the repair of tooth cavities or defects, diagnoses of oral conditions associated with other diseases, management of gum diseases and conditions and care for dental injuries. Pediatric dentists are fairly common in a variety of locations around the country, including private practices, dental schools and medical centers. These doctors are specifically trained to treat children, so their equipment is often arranged and decorated with younger audiences in mind.

How can I help protect my child’s teeth during sporting events?

Most pediatric dentists offer custom-fitted mouth guards for kids involved in high-contact sports. These mouth guards are made out of soft plastic to protect a child’s teeth, lips, cheeks and gums from sports-related injuries.

What are the sedation options for children?

For simple dental procedures that do not require complete sedation, pediatric dentists often use a topical anesthetic gel on the gums. Once the gel is applied, the area needing attention becomes completely numb. Other options for total sedation include oral medications, I.V. (intravenous), I.M. (intramuscular), and Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas). These sedation methods help our younger patients relax and enjoy their appointment. Dental sedation is very safe for children with the correct preparation and after-care. Parents are encouraged to comfort their child by holding their child’s hand, singing to the child or bringing along a comfort item for the child to hold, such as a favorite toy or a stuffed animal.

Are dental x-rays safe?

Yes, dental x-rays are safe. Pediatric dentists are trained to be particularly careful when children are being x-rayed. Lead aprons and high-speed films are typically used to eliminate radiation exposure and ensure a child’s safety.

What is baby bottle tooth decay?

Baby bottle tooth decay refers to tooth decay in infants and toddlers. Tooth decay occurs when artificially-sweetened liquids or liquids with natural sugars — such as milk, formula and fruit juice — cling to a baby’s teeth for an extended period of time. Natural bacteria in a baby’s mouth thrives on this sugar and creates acids that start to deteriorate teeth. Baby bottle tooth decay usually happens to children whose pacifiers are frequently dipped in sugar or syrup. Do not give a baby a sugary drink before he or she goes to sleep; because the flow of saliva is significantly lower when a child is sleeping, sugar is not adequately flushed away. Just because baby teeth are temporary does not mean they aren’t important! Primary teeth help a child speak and chew properly, as well as create a path for secondary teeth to follow. If baby bottle tooth decay is not treated, pain and infection will occur, and severely decayed teeth will need to be removed. Infants affected by baby bottle tooth decay may develop poor eating habits, speech problems and crooked or damaged secondary teeth.

What if my child accidentally knocks out a secondary tooth?

If your child loses a secondary tooth, try to remain calm. Find the tooth, hold it by the crown rather than the root, and try to reinsert the tooth back into your child’s open socket. If that is not possible, place the individual tooth in a glass of milk and bring your child and the glass of milk to a pediatric dentist immediately.

How do I implement proper oral hygiene at an early age?

  • Wipe the baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding
  • Begin brushing your child’s teeth without toothpaste when his or her first tooth arrives
  • Gradually begin to add small amounts of toothpaste, continue brushing teeth daily
  • Brush baby’s teeth until he or she is old enough to hold the brush (continue to supervise until your child can rinse and spit without assistance, usually around 6 years old)
  • Clean and massage gums in areas without teeth
  • Make sure your child is consuming enough fluoride, which helps lessen cavities (if your local water supply does not contain fluoride, ask your dentist if you need to use a supplement)
  • Schedule regular dental visits by your child’s first birthday
  • Do not feed your children sugar water, soft drinks or any other sugary liquids
  • Do not dip your child’s pacifier in anything sweet before he or she goes to sleep

If your child has any of the following symptoms, please consult your dentist as soon as possible:

  • Is 18 months old and still has not had any teeth come in
  • Has visible signs of tooth decay
  • Has secondary teeth coming in before the primary teeth are gone
  • Has a small jaw or a birth defect of the mouth or jaw, such as cleft palate
  • Has a facial injury that has damaged any teeth or gums