Setting the foundation for dental health at an early age is important. Pediatric dentistry is primarily about preventing tooth decay. An important function of a pediatric dentist is to maintain the health of the primary teeth until they naturally fall out. Primary teeth are important for chewing and maintaining good nutrition. They have a key role in speech development and also act as space maintainers for the yet-to-erupt permanent teeth.
The first dental visit should be scheduled when a child is 12 to 18 months old. Some dentists recommend that a child be seen for the first time six months after the first tooth erupts and no older than 12 months of age.
Dental decay has been significantly reduced over the past fifty years with the addition of fluoride to the dental regime for children. Fluoride toughens and re-mineralizes the enamel on the outer surfaces of the teeth. Nonetheless, dental caries (cavities) are still at least five times more common than asthma or hay fever in children.
Pediatric dentists can detect misaligned teeth (malocclusions) in children as young as two years old, and will often refer young children to an orthodontist for further evaluation. Early orthodontic intervention can prevent more complicated and expensive treatment later, improve a smile and boost a child’s self-image.
Key Points for Pediatric Dental Examination
Pediatric dentists promote dental health for children from infancy through adolescence. They are experts in assessing a child’s teeth, gums and mouth during all stages of growth. Here are a few key points that a pediatric dentist focuses upon:
- Dental cleaning
- Diagnoses oral conditions related to other medical conditions like diabetes or asthma
- Assesses oral development especially malocclusions, crowded teeth, crooked teeth, underbite, overbite, and skeletal growth inconsistencies
- Manages gum disease
- Treats dental injuries including fractured or knocked out teeth
- Counsels on stopping habits that negatively impact teeth (pacifier use and thumb sucking)
- Diagnoses and treats tooth decay
- Assesses nutrition and makes recommendations
Recommendations for Optimal Dental Health
Pediatric dentists recommend regular dental examinations for all children beginning no older than 12 months of age.
Amalgam fillings have been used in general dentistry for over a century and continue to be used today. Amalgam is a blend of mercury and a metallic powder made of silver, tin, copper and zinc. It is durable and cost effective. Amalgam is not used in front tooth filling for obvious cosmetic reasons. Some pediatric dentists have deferred to using only white fillings in their patients for the cosmetic benefits.
Brushing a child’s teeth at least twice a day, each morning after breakfast and at night before bedtime, is critical to maintaining dental health. This also establishes a strong foundation for children to follow when they become responsible for their own oral hygiene and dental care.
There is a basic dietary guideline for nutrition with regard to dental health: avoid sticky candy or dried and candied fruits. There are plenty of nutritional and tooth-friendly snacks that can replace sticky candies at snack time. They include low-sugar snacks like peanuts, celery and carrot sticks with peanut butter or cream cheese to dip in, fresh fruit, cheese cubes, yogurt, dry, unsweetened cereal or pretzels.
Allowing a baby fall sleep with a bottle can cause tooth decay, increase the number of ear infections and prolong dependence on using a bottle. Pediatric dentists recommend that bottle-feeding be stopped as soon a baby can hold a cup, at about one year old.
The Final Thought
Good oral hygiene and optimal dental health are key components of a child’s overall health and self-esteem. It is important to start teaching a child at a young age about the importance of healthy teeth. The lessons begin at home and follow in the office of a qualified pediatric dentist with whom the child and parents can build a trusting relationship.