Health Raps: Dental Care
A Child's Dental Care Begins Before Birth
Teeth begin to form between the third and sixth months of pregnancy. Good health habits are important for development of the unborn child.
Bringing Up Baby
You can't see them, but at birth your baby already has 20 primary teeth, some of which are almost completely formed in the jaw. Wiping baby's gums with a clean gauze pad after feeding will remove the plaque and bacteria that can harm erupting teeth.
The First Dental Visit
The ADA recommends parents take children to the dentist by the child's first birthday. In addition to checking for decay and other possible problems, the dentist will teach you how to properly clean your child's teeth daily.
The Growing Years
Begin brushing your child's teeth with a little water as soon as the first tooth appears. If you are considering using toothpaste before age two, ask your dentist or physician first.
Parents need to supervise toothbrushing to make sure children over age two use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and avoid swallowing the toothpaste. Children should be taught to spit out remaining toothpaste and rinse with water after brushing.
Nature's Cavity Fighter
Fluoride is one of the most effective agents for preventing tooth decay. Ask the dentist or your child's pediatrician if your child is getting the proper amount of fluoride, especially if you are breastfeeding and aren't sure if there is fluoride in your community's water.
Accidents Can Happen
Active children require proper mouth protection to prevent injuries to the face, tongue and lips, injuries that could include broken or knocked out teeth and even jaw fractures. Ask your dentist for advice on the proper mouthguard for your child, whether he or she is playing a contact sport like football or just having fun bike riding or inline skating. If an accident does happen, call the dentist as soon as possible.
What to Tell the Dentist
It's important for parents to take an active role in their child's oral health care. Parents should let the dentist know about their child's health. Parents should tell the dentist if the child is ill or taking any medications, and if the child has any known drug allergies.
What to Ask the Dentist
If you don't understand the dentist's recommendations for your child's oral health treatment, don't be afraid to ask for more information. Ask if there are other treatment options available for your child. How do the options differ in cost? Which option will best solve the problem?
Your Right to Know
Parents have the right to be carefully informed about the benefits and risks of any dental treatment for their children and to be involved in treatment decisions. You should feel comfortable that all your questions have been answered and that you understand the options before giving your consent to dental treatment.
If you have talked to your dentist and are still uncertain about the treatment recommendations for your child, get a second opinion.
What to Tell Your Child
Children should know that the dentist is a friendly doctor who will help take care of their teeth. Be positive and try to make dental visits an enjoyable experience for your child. Set a good example by brushing your own teeth twice a day, using floss or an interdental cleaner between your teeth once a day and visiting your dentist regularly. Attitudes and habits established at an early age are critical in helping your child maintain good oral health throughout life.
"Health Raps: Dental Care" was produced in September of 2004. For the most recently updated health information, consult a dentist and visit health.gov.