Dentist Ricardo Perez: It is critical that dental care starts early. We want all children to have healthy teeth, beautiful smiles, and benefit from excellent dental health.
Narrator: Dr. Ricardo Perez is a third-generation pediatric dentist in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and a member of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Dentist: There we go, Chase. You are a very handsome boy. And Mom, you are here for your first dental visit?
Narrator: When should you first take your child to the dentist? Different experts have slightly different answers to this question. What they agree on is that the first visit should happen no later than your child's first birthday.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that you take your child in sooner if he's at high risk for dental decay. Your baby's doctor can help you decide this at his regular well-baby checkups.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry advise bringing your baby in for a visit as soon as his first tooth appears. If he doesn't have a visible tooth by his first birthday, bring him in anyway.
Dentist: I advise my patient population to start proper oral hygiene habits at home early.
Narrator: There are several reasons to start caring for your baby's teeth and gums early. First, it helps prevent tooth decay.
Dentist: If the teeth are not properly cleaned at home, early on, if there is milk residue or food debris on these teeth, it's the proper environment for bacteria, that is now in the baby's mouth, to begin to produce acid, and this acid is actually what erodes or causes tooth decay.
Narrator: Second, it sets the stage for good oral hygiene later.
Dentist: The more you get him used to you brushing his teeth (or Daddy), the more receptive he is going to be. If you start at 2, it is going to be a little harder.
Narrator: Third, even though your child's baby teeth will eventually fall out, they're still very important.
Dentist: Baby teeth contribute in the developing of his face and his mouth. Proper chewing is very critical for proper eating and therefore his dental health is directly related to his general health. Baby teeth also preserve the space for permanent teeth.
Narrator: When can you expect your baby's teeth to appear?
Typically, the lower central incisors emerge first, then the upper central incisors. The lateral incisors, which flank the middle teeth, follow next. Then come the first molars, which will likely appear soon after your baby's first birthday. After that are the canines, and the second molars come in last. Most children will have a full set of 20 baby teeth, or primary teeth, by their third birthday. There's no real need to clean your baby's gums until she sprouts a tooth.
Some dentists recommend wiping a baby's gums once or twice a day with a damp washcloth or piece of gauze wrapped around your finger. You can do this if you like, but there's no evidence that the habit will prevent tooth decay.
Dentist: Once teeth begin to come in around 6 or 8 months of age, parents can begin to transition to using a baby toothbrush.
Narrator: Once your child has at least one visible tooth, buy a baby toothbrush with a small head of soft bristles. Use a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste – just a dot the size of a rice grain or a thin smear. Fluoride is very important because it strengthens your child's tooth enamel and helps prevent cavities. But be sure to use just a little. Children who swallow too much fluoride can develop a condition called fluorosis, which can cause permanent white spots on their adult teeth.
Brush your baby's teeth twice a day – once in the morning and once before bed. Brush gently on both the outside and inside surfaces of your baby's teeth – or tooth, as the case may be – and try to brush her tongue, to dislodge the bacteria that can cause bad breath. Don't worry about rinsing after brushing, since you're using just a tiny amount of toothpaste and the water would wash too much of the fluoride away.
Flossing for babies is optional. There's no evidence it makes a difference, but some dentists play it safe and recommend it anyway. Your baby's dentist may recommend flossing between any teeth that are touching each other.
Dentist: Some kids need to have their teeth flossed earlier because they don't have any space in between their teeth.
Narrator: Gently floss your baby's teeth the same way you'd floss your own. Most babies have plenty of space between their teeth and won't need flossing, at least until they have a mouthful of teeth that are touching each other – usually between ages 2 and 2 1/2.
Pay attention to your baby's emerging teeth and take care of them right from the start. Your child's pearly whites are worth the effort.