Birth to 5 years

Dental health care for children five and under is essential for developing proper oral health habits that will lead to a lifetime of exemplary oral health care. Here’s how you can ensure your child has healthy teeth in the future:

Understand that first teeth are vital to permanent teeth development

Your child’s first teeth are vital in helping your child eat and learn to speak properly. Healthy teeth are also important for a child to develop a good self-image. The baby teeth hold a space in the jaw for the adult teeth and guide them into position. Some first teeth provide a proper chewing surface until age twelve or thirteen. If a baby tooth is lost too early, the adult tooth (which replaces it) may not be guided into the proper position and may cause adult teeth to come in crooked or crowded.

Start with positive infant feeding habits and good nutrition

Provide a varied and healthy diet to ensure that your child gets sufficient amounts of minerals, calcium and phosphorus, and vitamins A, C and D to ensure proper tooth development and strength. Practice smart snacking; choose something without sugar – nuts and seeds, cheese or pizza – for your child’s between-meal snacks and save the sweets for mealtimes when increased saliva flow helps neutralize the effects of sugar.

Guard against baby bottle decay and excessive thumb-sucking

Baby bottle decay can occur when a baby falls asleep with a bottle containing a sweet liquid like juice, formula or milk. Even drinks that are good for your baby contain different types of sugar that can be harmful to baby teeth. When allowed to pool during sleep, sugary or carbohydrate-rich liquids can lead to cavities, tooth loss, infections or more serious problems. Watch for dull white spots or lines on the teeth, particularly on the tongue side. Dark or discoloured teeth may be the sign of a more serious problem. To avoid baby bottle decay, use only water in your infant’s bottle at bedtime and do not dip your child’s pacifier in sweet liquids such as honey or sugar.

While it is true that sucking is one of babies’ natural reflexes – relaxing, comforting and feeding them – the need for sucking usually decreases after the age of two or three and has minimal long-term effects on permanent teeth. But sometimes, prolonged and vigorous sucking after the age of five can cause problems with dental development. If you are concerned about your child’s sucking, talk to your dentist.

Brush and floss your child’s teeth until he or she is able

A child’s teeth need to be brushed and gums massaged when teething starts and the first tooth appears. It is good practice to clean the area of the gums where there aren’t any teeth with a wet face cloth. For children under three, brush your child’s teeth with a child-sized toothbrush and plain water. For children over three, use only a pea-size amount of toothpaste but ensure your child spits rather than swallows the toothpaste. When your child has the manual dexterity, encourage your child to brush his or her own teeth, but you should brush them yourself afterwards to ensure that a good and thorough job is done.

Flossing is also important for baby teeth because it enables you to clean between the teeth where the toothbrush can’t reach and where most cavities and gum disease start. You will probably have to floss for them until they are eight or nine years old because of the greater co-ordination necessary.

Schedule your child’s first dental visit sooner than later

The first visit with the dentist should take place as soon as the first tooth is erupted. It is important to introduce a child to the dentist before a problem develops so your child can develop positive feelings about his or her dentist. You want your child to be relaxed and happy rather than frightened and in discomfort and you want to be able to discuss any dental care issues you may have. Visit the dentist every six months to check for cavities and proper tooth development.

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