Dental care for children should start even before the teeth come in. Simply wipe your babies’ gums with a piece of gauze or a wet washcloth. We usually recommend this be done during bath time. This will remove bacteria, and will also prepare your child to eventually have a toothbrush in her or his mouth. Once the teeth start to erupt, transition to a baby toothbrush, which are designed with small heads and large handles so that parents can have an easy grip. A child’s first tooth can appear as early as 4 months, and as late as 18 months, with the majority receiving it by 1 year.
Once the first tooth erupts, it is time to schedule the first dental visit. We like to see children within six months of the first tooth erupting, as per American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry guidelines. This will allow us to do an exam, make sure the teeth are being cleaned properly, and answer any questions parents might have. It is also important as its gets children used to seeing a dentist. Young children usually associate doctors with pain and shots. Our job as dentists is to make the visit fun and remove any trace of fear a child may have. We do this with a technique called tell, show do. We first tell the child what we will be doing, we show them all the instruments we use, and then we do it. We also give a lot of fun prizes. Children’s dental visits should be scheduled in the morning when they are fresh and awake- not after school.
Children need to see the dentist every six months to ensure the health and proper development of their teeth. Decay in baby teeth can progress very quickly, so we need to treat cavities early. One of the most common questions we get is if it is necessary to fill cavities in baby teeth, as they will only fall out later on. The answer is an unequivocal YES! Baby teeth are important as space holders in the mouth. Losing them early will cause your child’s teeth to shift and space will be lost for the permanent teeth. Also, when decay if left untreated, it does not stay stagnant. It gets worse and worse until one day, your child may wake up in pain or with a swelling or an abscess.
Children usually start to lose their baby teeth around six years of age, but there is no set time. Some may start as early as 4, with others not losing their first tooth until 8. This is where the dentist can help guide you as to what is normal, and what is not. X-rays at this time are important to see the development of the permanent teeth and any possible problems that might delay their eruption. This is also when your general dentist may suggest for you to see an orthodontist. Many parents remember seeing an orthodontist for the first time in their teens, but many problems in children need to be treated as early as age 7. This interceptive treatment can help with jaw growth, crowded or overlapping teeth, and any problems related to habits like thumb sucking. The earlier these issues are treated, the better, as it will ensure proper space for the permanent teeth.
Dr. Herbert Schneider has been recognized for his work with fellowship awards from the Academy of General Dentistry and the American Endodontic Society. He also holds a prestigious Mastership from the World Clinical Laser Institute. Dr. Rachel Jacobs joined the practice in 2006. Her calm, yet precise manner makes her a hit with both adults and children. Both doctors are certified in the uses of three different clinical lasers.
By Dr. Herbert Schneider and Dr. Rachel Jacobs