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Pediatric dentistry establishes health habits for life

Most of us understand the importance of dental care for ourselves, but when it comes to our children, the questions of what and when can be a little confusing.

According to statistics published by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, one in 10 children ages 6 to 11 has never been to the dentist even though tooth decay is the major cause of tooth loss. Children with healthy teeth chew more easily, learn to speak more quickly and clearly and have better general health.

Proper dental care starts before children even have teeth. With a regular schedule of dental visits, cleaning and at-home care, parents can create habits that lead to good oral health for life.

Healthy teeth for babies

- Before the teeth erupt, clean your babyŐs mouth and gums with a soft cloth or infant toothbrush at bath time. This helps ready your baby for the teeth cleaning to come.
- When the teeth erupt, clean the childŐs teeth at least twice a day with a toothbrush designed for small children.
- Even though parents must be responsible for their childŐs oral hygiene until age 6, toddlers should be encouraged to help brush their teeth.
- Take your baby to see a pediatric dentist shortly after the first tooth comes in usually between the ages of 6 months and 1 year. The earlier the visit, the better the chance of learning how to prevent dental disease.
- If you must put your baby to sleep with a bottle, use nothing but water. The teeth of children who are frequently breast-fed or given bottles containing sugary liquids like milk, formula, or fruit juice, are under attack by bacterial acid for extended periods. Parents also need to follow a daily dental routine if their child uses juice boxes, sippy cups or sports bottles throughout the day.
- Never dip a pacifier in anything sweet; it can lead to serious tooth decay.
- Wean your infant from the bottle by 1 year of age.
- Even though the baby teeth have not erupted, infants still need fluoride to help developing teeth grow strong. Your pediatric dentist will determine your childŐs fluoride needs during the initial consultation.
- In the pacifier-versus-thumb debate, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry votes for pacifiers over thumbs to comfort new babies. A pacifier habit is easier to break at an earlier age. The earlier a sucking habit is stopped, the less chance the habit will lead to orthodontic problems.
- Sucking on a thumb, finger or pacifier is normal for infants; most children stop by age 2. If a child does not stop on his or her own, the habit should be discouraged after age 4. Prolonged sucking can create crowded, crooked teeth or bite problems.

Dental care for preschoolers

As your toddler is learning to walk, talk, and even eat on his or her own, itŐs important to make sure his or her mouth is healthy and ready to speak clearly. ItŐs just as important to take care of baby teeth as it is permanent teeth since they hold space for later adult teeth.

Additionally, children with healthy mouths get more nutrients from the food they eat, learn to speak more quickly and have better general health. Here are some tips for parents.

- Start sooner rather than later.
- Parents should brush preschoolersŐ teeth and supervise the brushing for school-age children until they are 7 to 8 years of age.
- The best times to brush are after breakfast and before bed.
- The best toothbrushes have soft, round-ended bristles that clean while being gentle on the gums. Remember to replace a toothbrush after three months or sooner if the bristles are fraying. Frayed bristles can harm the gums and are not as effective in cleaning teeth.
- Select a fluoride toothpaste accepted by the American Dental Association.
- Children 3 and younger are most susceptible to enamel defects caused by swallowing fluoride toothpaste. Either use no toothpaste at all, or put only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush and encourage children to spit out the toothpaste, not swallow it. Ask your pediatric dentist when to start flossing your childŐs teeth.

School-aged children

Even though tooth decay is the leading cause of tooth loss in children, one in 10 kids between the ages of 5 and 11 have never visited a dentist. The good news is that 90 percent of cavities are preventable, and roughly half of school children in the United States have no decay in permanent teeth.

Here are six steps to help children keep those teeth healthy.

1. Good home care. ItŐs important to supervise your childŐs brushing, while providing them with an approved fluoride toothpaste. Also, snack only in moderation Đ no more than three to four times a day with healthy foods.

2. Fluorides. Fluoride helps prevents tooth decay, slows the growth of decay and can even cure cavities in the early stages, and a healed cavity is stronger than the original tooth surface. Fluorinated water is the top way most children have access to fluoride, but fluoride supplements are available as well. Parents can also take advantage of fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses.

3. Sealants. Children with just one application of sealant on their back teeth have 50 percent less tooth decay after 15 years than children without sealants. These sealants also cost half of what fillings cost.

4. Mouth protectors for sports. A mouthguard not only protects the teeth but may reduce the force of blows that can cause concussions, neck injuries and jaw fractures. A child should wear a mouth protector while participating in any activity with a risk of falls or of head contact with other players or equipment. This includes football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, skateboarding and even gymnastics.

5. Regular dental visits. It is essential to get an on-going assessment of changes in a childŐs oral health by a pediatric dentist. For example, a child may need additional fluoride, dietary changes, sealants or interceptive orthodontics for ideal dental health.

6. Spit tobacco endangers children. Children, both girls and boys, make up an estimated one quarter of the 10 million Americans who use spit tobacco. Spit tobacco can cause gum disease, tooth loss and oral cancer. Long-term snuff users have a 50 percent greater risk of oral cancer than nonusers

Dental care for teens

Tooth decay is a problem no one outgrows. With their hectic school schedules and busy social lives, teens have it tough as they assume responsibility for their own dental health and eating habits.

They can do a good job protecting their smiles in just minutes a day by following a few straightforward rules.

Eating disorders pose serious health risks, especially to young women. Signs of these disorders often show clearly in the mouth. Pediatric dentists are on the first line of defense in identifying teens who suffer from eating disorders.

If you are thinking of body piercings, avoid your mouth. Mouth jewelry can chip your teeth and get in the way of eating comfortably or speaking clearly. Oral piercing poses a number of risks, including pain, swelling and infection.

Here are some essentials for teen dental health.

- Keep up with your dental visits.
- Avoid gum disease. Periodontal disease is not just a risk to your dental health, but also to your appearance. It affects six out of 10 teenagers, causing red or swollen gums, bleeding gums or bad breath. The best prevention is brushing, flossing and regular dental visits.
- As teens grow, so too do their faces and jaws. You can be healthy and attractive through these changes by taking good care of your teeth and visiting your dentist.
- By the end of the teen years, the last of the permanent teeth, called wisdom teeth or third molars, erupt. Although some third molars come into the mouth normally, others need to be removed because of their position or lack of space. Your pediatric dentist will make sure any treatment needed for your third molars takes place at the right time for you.

Remember, good dental care starts at home with basic brushing and flossing. DonŐt forget the importance of fluorides and sealants, and most importantly, make sure you family makes regular visits to your dentist.

Information provided by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.