From the time your baby is about six months old and those first little chompers start breaking through her gums, you’ll be keeping a good eye on the development of those teeth. At first, you can use a piece of gauze to keep them clean. As time goes on, you’ll switch over to a baby toothbrush, and before you know it, she’ll be using her own toothbrush to take care of her own teeth.
While most of the time teeth develop as they should, there are a few issues that might crop up. Regular visits to your child’s pediatrician and dentist will help you detect these potential concerns. Here is a list of some of the more common tooth problems in children for you to be aware of:
- Baby Bottle Decay This type of dental decay goes by a few different names, including nursing caries and nursing bottle syndrome. What happens is that sugary liquid (baby formula, breast milk or juice) pools in the baby’s mouth after she’s been put to bed with a bottle (or after she falls asleep while nursing) and can cause decay. This decay can be painful and can interfere with eating and speaking. There are a few things that you can do to avoid the problem. First, don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle of milk or formula. A pacifier will allow her to suck without exposing her teeth to the sugar that bacteria will feast on. An older baby could also be given a bottle with a small amount of water. If you are breastfeeding, try not to let your baby nurse continuously all night long. Once nursing has been well-established (which should occur before teeth are an issue, in most babies), switching to a pacifier if the baby needs to suckle without actually eating is not a problem. Use a piece of gauze to wipe off your little one’s teeth after each feeding, if possible. Finally, ask your dentist about the need for fluoride drops. If your water supply does not contain fluoride, supplements may help ward off dental decay.
- Overbite When your child’s baby teeth come in, spaces between them are normal. These teeth are “place holders” for the adult teeth, which are bigger, so it’s good to see spaces between them that will later be filled by the larger teeth. Sometimes, however, the front teeth seem to stick out too far. This is called an overbite, and it can be caused by a few habits in your preschool-aged child. The first is thumb-sucking. Most dentists agree that the adult teeth are not likely to be impacted by thumb-sucking until the age of four or five, so if you have a toddler who always has her thumb in her mouth, don’t worry! If your child is about to head off to kindergarten, however, some encouragement to stop is warranted. (Nagging, threatening or punishing will not work, because this is a self-soothing behavior. If your child feels nervous or sad, she’ll pop her thumb right back into her mouth!) Other ways that an overbite can be caused by your child include lip-sucking and tongue-thrusting. If you have concerns about any of these, it’s a good idea to talk to your child’s dentist.
- Clenching and Grinding Many children get into the habit of grinding their teeth. You may hear it at night, or you might figure it out when your child complains about pain during chewing. Sometimes being aware of the problem via gentle reminders is enough to help a child stop grinding. Other times, your child’s dentist might want to make her a night guard. This is a removable appliance that will stop your child’s teeth from rubbing together.
As with anything else impacting your child’s health, it’s important to be on the lookout for potential tooth problems. Your dentist is a wealth of knowledge on this topic, so if you have questions or concerns, simply give us a call. We want to work with your child so that she enjoys a lifetime of beautiful smiles.