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Taking Care of Your Child's Dental Health

Did you know that February has been designated as Children's Dental Health month? A month devoted to increasing the awareness of proper dental health care. Just a generation ago parents were advised to bring children to the dentist about the time that they began school. Now, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests that dentists see children earlier. Children's Dental Health month is a way to increase awareness and clear up any misconceptions.

Just what constitutes proper dental care? According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry there are a few rules of thumb that parents should follow.

Baby teeth typically begin erupting at about six months of age and the twenty primary teeth by the age of three. Genetics plays a role in when the first tooth comes in, so if there is a family history of early or late eruption, baby will probably follow suit. Children will then begin losing baby teeth (or shedding) about the age of six or seven, but again, genetics comes into play. The process typically ends between the ages of eleven to thirteen with the loss of the second molar. The arrival of the wisdom teeth marks the completion of the very lengthy permanent teeth process, which typically occurs between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two.

Parents should start cleaning teeth as soon as they start erupting. A baby washcloth is perfect for the job. When more appear a soft toothbrush works well. Dentists suggest that non-fluoride toothpaste (too much fluoride can stain teeth) be used until children learn how to spit and not swallow. Some children catch on earlier than others, so be patient. Once children master the spitting technique fluoride toothpaste can be introduced and paired with an age appropriately-sized toothbrush.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry by the age of six months, children need to have fluoride introduced. Fluoride is important because it can help repair early problems and strengthens tooth enamel. This can be done through tap water, if it is fluoridated, or it may be necessary for fluoride supplements to be advised by a dentist or pediatrician. Discuss this with your pediatrician.

Suggestions for when the first trip to the dentist should take place vary according to the source. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that it occurs when the child turns three. However, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests that the first visit take place after the first tooth erupts. Many pediatric dentists offer free initial visits so that parents can determine if they are a good fit for their child. A well-timed visit after the first tooth erupts could help parents determine if 1.) The dentist is a good family fit and 2.) If there are any dental issues that need to be addressed before the age of 3. If your child has high risk factors an earlier visit may also be advised. Risk factors include: Children with special health care needs, a history of sleeping with a cup or bottle, a mother with a number of cavities, or staining, crowding, thumb sucking, pacifier use or teeth grinding.

In addition to brushing, children should be taught that flossing is an important part of good dental health. Parents should begin flossing teeth at about the age of three or four. Like brushing, it may take several years before children become adept at flossing their own teeth. The typical age for mastering flossing is eight to ten, with regular practice.

Parents and their dentists may also consider the use of sealants for children around the age of six. It's a plastic material that's applied (typically to first and second molars) which hardens to form a protective coating that guards against plaque in areas that are difficult to brush properly.

Look for a good pediatric dentist. Not only do you have to like your dentist, but the dentist should work very well with your child. Most children will never jump at the chance to visit the dentist, but they should be comfortable with the person who is taking care of their teeth. Getting them in to see the dentist early should also help them feel more at ease. If your child has a real issue with pain, a dentist who specializes in pediatric dentistry may be a good choice. However, if there is a family dentist who is great with children, it may put your child at ease to see you getting your teeth checked first.

Remember, dental care is just like most things. Children learn by the examples that parents set for them. If mom and dad take great care of their teeth, children will learn to do so as well.

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