When Should Children Begin Dental Care? What Parents Need to Know

Our teeth are more important than many of us may think, and taking steps to maintain good oral health can help prevent numerous problems. While, as adults, we try to stay on top of brushing and flossing as instructed, when it comes to toddlers and small children, what should we do? Many parents aren’t certain about when to start oral care and how they can help their kids through the process. To make this easier, here is what parents of young children need to know about youth dental care.

When Should Children Begin Seeing a Dentist?

Most parents begin taking their children to see a dentist by age two and a half, but this is much later than dentists would recommend. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children see a dentist at one year of age, or within six months after the first primary tooth breaks through. Primary teeth typically begin coming in around the age of six months, making a dentist visit within the first year perfect timing.

One reason many parents hesitate to take their children in at this age is due to a misconception that primary teeth aren’t as important as permanent teeth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry stresses the importance of primary teeth for numerous reasons, including:

  • Primary teeth are essential for helping children chew properly and maintain nutrition.
  • They can help with initial speech development.
  • Well cared for primary teeth can boost a child’s self-esteem.
  • Primary teeth help create space for permanent teeth.

Taking care of primary teeth from the moment they begin coming in helps set children up for life long healthy mouths. This is especially true if coupled with the teaching of proper brushing and flossing techniques that can be turned into healthy habits.

When Should Children First See an Orthodontist

When it comes to orthodontic care, children should usually begin by age seven. By this age, most permanent front teeth should be in place along with the first set of permanent molars. As these begin to come in, seeing an orthodontist becomes important because they can detect if there are any problems with bite pattern or alignment. While orthodontic treatments can begin as young as age seven, if all permanent teeth aren’t in place, an orthodontist will typically wait before starting any treatments. Care at this stage is usually called “phase one treatment”, and it is typically focused around identifying and correcting problems early so that braces won’t be necessary later in life.

The most common treatments used include:

  • Retainers
  • Front teeth braces
  • Palatal expanders

Because some primary teeth are actually larger than permanent teeth, signs of dental crowding at this stage are usually treated with a space maintainer, that helps teeth develop correctly without the need for longer intervention in the future. Problems like this are easier to fix the earlier they are detected, so don’t hesitate when it comes to your child’s first dentist and orthodontist visits.

Dental Care and Independence

Another question many parents have is when to start caring for teeth and how. Dental care can start in newborns with a simple wiping of the gums to help keep the mouth clean. As your child grows and begins to get teeth, here is how you can start building a routine.

  • Brushing: For children under age three, start by using an amount of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. Children three and above can use a pea-sized amount. Help your child gently brush their teeth for about two minutes both in the morning and at night. Brushing assistance should continue until the ages of four or five, after which children should begin brushing on their own with supervision until seven or eight.
  • Flossing: Once multiple teeth come through and begin touching, it’s time to consider adding flossing into your child’s dental care routine. Cleaning these hard to reach areas helps remove any stuck particles that could otherwise create cavities if not cleaned properly.
  • Regular Dentist Visits: Regular dentist visits should begin within six months of the first tooth breaking through. Checkups should then continue regularly or as recommended by your dentist. Checkups like this help ensure your child maintains strong healthy primary teeth, while also giving you the ability to ask any questions you might have.
  • Changing Diets: A child’s diet can have a lot to do with the formation of cavities. Drinks with high acid and sugar content, such as fruit juices and soda, can wear away enamel. This can cause decay and sensitivity. Try to limit the amount of sugar or fruity drinks your child consumes and promote water as a go-to beverage.

By starting early and teaching children these good oral hygiene techniques, you can help build healthy habits that will last for life. If you’re ever uncertain about something, don’t hesitate to call your dental office and ask about what they would recommend.

Should Your Child Get Braces?

Another question some parents have is if they should get braces or wait to see if the problem corrects itself. Generally, your orthodontist will advise you on the best course of action. Let’s take a look at some of the facts.

Children need braces for a variety of reasons, many of which only get worse over time. Problems such as crowding can make cleaning between teeth more difficult, without braces or straightening, this could lead to cavities in the future. Abnormal bite patterns can also cause problems farther in the future. Severe over or underbites may not look concerning when a child is young, but over time as a child grows up an uncorrected overbite could wear down lower and upper teeth to the point of chipping and disintegration. This is certainly not something we want any of our kids to experience.

While it can be tempting to think that oral problems like this can be corrected naturally over time, the best course of action is to listen to the advice of your dentist. Taking care of these issues early can make them easier to correct and help mitigate the treatment time that would otherwise be needed.

If your child needs braces, options like Invisalign have made teeth straightening more appealing, especially for image-conscious teenagers. When surveyed, 47% of teens with Invisalign reported an increase in their self-esteem during treatment. This is compared to only 22% of teens with metal braces who reported the same. Additionally, treatments with Invisalign usually last, on average, one year. This is opposed to the two years and up metal braces typically take for treatment.

If your orthodontist advises that your child start treatment like this, make sure to ask about the different options available. This will help you ensure you’re getting the right type for your child.

The Importance of Working with Your Dentist

Dentists are an invaluable source of information when it comes to making sure that your child maintains good oral health. Without their input, your child could risk decay, gum disease, tooth damage, and misalignment, and other health problems that can come from cavities. Take advantage of their knowledge by asking questions and taking notes on what they recommend for your child. While the basics will almost always be the same, your dentist can advise on special treatments and techniques that might uniquely benefit your child.

If you’re uncertain about when to begin dental care with your child, hopefully, this article has helped clear up a majority of points. Keep in mind the importance of early intervention and speak with your dentist if you have any additional questions. Dental health is more important than most of us think. Starting early is the best way to ensure a lifelong healthy smile.

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