Early Dental Care


In general the first tooth erupts between ages 6 to 12 months. Gums are sore, tender and sometimes irritable until the age of 3. Rubbing sore gums gently with a clean finger, the back of a cold spoon or a cold, wet cloth helps soothe the gums. Teething rings work well, but avoid teething biscuits—they contain sugar that is not good for baby teeth.

While your baby is teething, it is important to monitor the teeth for signs of baby bottle decay. Examine the teeth, especially on the inside or the tongue side, every two weeks for dull spots (whiter than the tooth surface) or lines. A bottle containing anything other than water and left in an infant’s mouth while sleeping can cause decay. This happens because sugar in the liquid mixes with bacteria in dental plaque, forming acids that attack the tooth enamel. Each time a child drinks liquids containing sugar, acids attack the teeth for about 20 minutes. When awake, saliva carries away the liquid. During sleep, saliva flow considerably decreases and liquids pool around the child’s teeth for long periods, covering the teeth in acids.

Thumbs, Fingers, and Pacifiers

Children suck on fingers, pacifiers, and other objects for comfort and security. Most children should stop sucking on their fingers and/or pacifiers between the ages of 2 and 4. If a child continues these habits past the age of 4, their teeth may not develop properly; the most common effect is the tilting of the teeth towards the lip, but other effects include the under-development or mis-development of the jaw. Your dentist will be able to inform you if your child’s habits are becoming a problem for tooth development.

Infant’s New Teeth

The primary, or “baby,” teeth play an important role in dental development. Without them, a child cannot chew food properly and has difficulty speaking clearly. Primary teeth are vital to development of the jaws and for guiding the permanent (secondary) teeth into place when they replace the primary teeth around age 6.

Since primary teeth guide the permanent teeth into place, infants with missing primary teeth or infants who lose primary teeth early may need a space maintainer, a device used to hold the natural space open. Without a maintainer, the teeth can tilt toward the empty space and cause permanent teeth to come in crooked. Missing teeth should always be mentioned to your child’s dentist. The way your child cares for his/her primary teeth plays a critical role in how he/she treats the permanent teeth. Children and adults are equally susceptible to plaque and gum problems—hence, the need for regular care and dental checkups.

A Child’s First Dental Visit

A child’s first dental visit should be scheduled around his/her first birthday. The most important part of the visit is becoming acquainted with and comfortable with their doctor and the staff. A pleasant, comfortable first visit builds trust and helps the child to be relaxed during future dental visits. Parents are welcome to accompany their child to the treatment area at this visit. Children should be encouraged to discuss any fears or anxiety they feel.

After the first visit, it is important to continue to schedule appointments with the dentist. You should schedule at least two appointments a year; some children may require more frequent visits because of a higher likliness of tooth decay.

Why Primary Teeth Are Important

Primary teeth are important for many reasons. Mainly, good teeth enable a child to eat and maintain good nutrition. Healthy teeth allow for clear pronunciation and speech habits. The self-image that healthy teeth give a child is immeasurable. Primary teeth also guide the eruption of the permanent teeth.

Good Diet & Healthy Teeth

The teeth, bones and soft tissue/gums of the mouth require a healthy, well-balanced diet. A variety of foods from the five food groups helps reduce (and prevent) cavities and other dental problems. Foods that are high in sugars and starches are the most likely to cause cavities; typically, most snacks for children are high in these carbohydrates, so children should only eat healthy foods like vegetables, low-fat yogurt and cheeses, which promote strong teeth. Be aware that many “healthy” foods contain at least one kind of sugar; this includes milk, fruit, and even a few vegetables.

This does not mean you need to eliminate all sugar-y and starch-y foods from your child’s diet. These foods will be much healthier and more balanced when served in a meal rather than served as a snack. You can also save these foods for special treats.

Build-up of liquids other than water is another big cause of tooth decay/cavities. According to AAPD (American Academy for Pediatric Dentistry), you should only use sippy cups for water, except for at mealtimes. Sippy cups are intended to help your child transition between a bottle and a real cup, not as a convenient travel cup. If your child drinks high-sugar beverages from the sippy cup over an extended period of time, they have a much higher risk of cavities. To further prevent cavities, sippy cups should not be used at bedtime or naptime, unless they contain water. Additionally, if your child is not yet on solid foods, avoid nursing them to sleep or putting them to bed with formula, milk, juice, or other sweet liquids. Try using a pacifier or bottle of water instead.

Infant’s Tooth Eruption

A child’s teeth actually start forming before birth. As early as 4 months of age, the primary or “baby” teeth push through the gums—the lower central incisors are first, then the upper central incisors. The remainder of the 20 primary teeth usually erupt by age 3, but the place and order varies.

Permanent teeth begin eruption around age 6, starting with the first molars and lower central incisors. This process continues until around age 21. Adults have 28 secondary (permanent) teeth—32 including the third molars (wisdom teeth).

Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Tooth decay in infants can be diminished or totally prevented by not allowing sleeping infants to breast or bottle-feed. Infants that need a bottle to comfortably fall asleep should be given a water-filled bottle or a pacifier. Our office is committed to fighting baby bottle tooth decay. Let us know if you see any signs of decay or anything unusual in your child’s mouth.