In the first year whirlwind of pediatrician visits, adjusting to parenthood, and setting up permanent residence in Target's Baby department, the dentist is one place most of new parents don't visit with their children. But it turns out that delaying that first trip can affect children's lifelong oral health.
Next time you're at your playgroup or your favorite Mommy & Me class, ask the other moms if they've taken their kids to the dentist yet. Chances are, they'll say they haven't. After all, who's worried about oral health when a child only has a few teeth?
Turns out that -- hold onto your hats -- conventional wisdom is wrong. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that children go to the dentist by age 1 or within six months after the first tooth erupts. Yep, you read that right. Along with that first year fete you've been planning, you'll need to schedule a little face time with a good pediatric dentist.
The importance of baby teeth
Many parents mistakenly believe that baby teeth don't really matter. They fall out, we reason, so even if they develop a cavity or two along the way, the kids will be find in the end. But the AAPD says that baby teeth are involved in speech development, save space for permanent teeth, and help children chew properly so they can maintain adequate nutrition.
"Many Americans don't understand how important their children's baby teeth are to lifelong oral health," said Jed J. Jacobson, DDS, MS, MPH, chief science officer and senior V.P. at Delta Dental, the nation's leading dental benefits provider.
In fact, the AAPD recommends that you stat caring for your child's teeth at birth by wiping baby's gums with a soft, wet cloth after each feeding. As teeth begin to appear, you can start using a soft child's toothbrush and specially formulated children's toothpaste twice daily.
"Americans say they understand that proper brushing technique is critical to children's oral health," says Dr. Jacobson. But 36 percent of primary caregivers who responded to a recent children's oral health survey admitted that their children brush less than once daily. And nearly half say their children brush their teeth for a minute or less, despite AAPD recommendations of at least two minutes of brushing.
So what's happening to our kids as a result of the disconnect between what we know we ought to do and what we're actually doing? About 18 percent of survey respondents say their child has had a cavity in the past year. And nearly one in five of those children experienced four or more cavities. If you think it's tough to get your child to cooperate with a few minutes of daily brushing, imagine trying to hold her down while she's having a cavity filled.
What to do now
The good news is that you can start protecting your baby's teeth today. Start by scheduling an appointment with a good pediatric dentist -- ask your pediatrician or friends for recommendations. Next, if your baby still doesn't have teeth, start wiping his gums with a clean cloth after feedings.
Got a tooth or two? Pick up some children's toothpaste and a soft-bristled brush designed for babies, and start brushing baby's teeth at least twice daily. It's important to get toothpaste designed for very young children -- if children swallow too much adult toothpaste with fluoride, they can become ill.
Get your kids used to good dental habits now, and you'll save a lot of time, money, and tooth pain down the line.