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Starting dental care for your toddler

Did you know that children as young as two years old should see a dentist? The American Dental Association (ADA), the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend children see a dentist upon the eruption of the first tooth.

Tooth eruption can begin as early as four months of age! By age one, there as many as eight teeth in a toddler's mouth. However, most pediatric dentist prefer to begin routine visits at age two to two and a half when there are all 20 teeth, a full primary dentition.

Why start so early?
Early prevention of dental disease is the main goal. Dental disease includes caries, gingivitis and periodontal disease. Caries is the most common. Cavities are caused by the acid created when sugar is mixed with plaque left on the teeth. The Center for Disease Control reports that more than 40 percent of children have cavities by kindergarten. Gingivitis occurs when plaque is not sufficiently removed. One study found 77 percent of children (Page & Schroeder 1982, Stramm 1986) have gingivitis. The bacteria in the plaque irritates the gum tissue causing redness, swelling and/or bleeding. Chronic gingivitis can lead to a more serious dental disease known as periodontitis. The bacteria that began irritating the external tissue has now moved to the supporting structures of the teeth. If left untreated, the bone surrounding the teeth will diminish ultimately resulting in tooth loss. Periodontal disease is the number one cause of tooth loss NOT decay. Therefore, regular visits to the dentist can prevent, diagnosis, treat and maintain your child's teeth and oral health.

Growth and development are more good reasons to start early
As your child grows, teeth are erupting and the jaw in comparison is growing. As these two things proliferate the bite changes. Changes in the bite can cause problems with eating. Oral habits, such as thumb sucking and pacifier use can affect growth and development as well. Regular visits can monitor changes as normal or abnormal and treatment can rendered earlier.

Familiarity and routine are also great reasons. The sooner a child begins the more comfortable he/she will be at each visit. Try not to change dentists often. Do your best to use the same dentist so your child can develop an ongoing relationship to increase trust and predictability. Keep a scheduled appointment. A regular appointment every six months is recommended.

Best of all, the sooner you begin regular visits to the dentist, the better chance of general health. There are more than 300 types of bacteria in the mouth. These bacterium can endanger the rest of the body. In 2001, the ADA released studies that associated oral bacteria with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and the birth of pre term, low birth weight babies.

Start early! Help your children not only get used to and comfortable with going to the dentist, but also to promote lifelong health.

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