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Early Dental Care


Normally the first tooth erupts between ages 6 to 12 months. Gums are sore, tender and sometimes irritable until the age of 3. Rubbing sore gums gently with a clean finger, the back of a cold spoon or a cold, wet cloth helps soothe the gums. Teething rings work well, but avoid teething biscuits—they contain sugar that is not good for teeth.

A bottle containing anything other than water and left in an infant's mouth while sleeping can cause decay. This happens because sugar in the liquid mixes with bacteria in dental plaque, forming acids that attack the tooth enamel. Each time a child drinks liquids containing sugar, acids attack the teeth for about 20 minutes. When awake, saliva carries away the liquid. During sleep, the saliva flow significantly decreases and liquids pool around the child's teeth for long periods, covering the teeth in acids for hours.

Infant's New Teeth

The primary, or “baby,” teeth play a crucial role in dental development. Without them, a child cannot chew food properly and has difficulty speaking clearly. Primary teeth are vital to development of the jaws and for guiding the permanent (secondary) teeth into place when they replace the primary teeth between ages 6 and 14.

The way your child learns to care for their primary teeth plays a critical role in how they treat their permanent teeth. Children and adults are equally susceptible to plaque and gum problems—hence, the need for regular care and dental checkups.

Why Primary (Baby) Teeth Are Important

Primary teeth are important for several reasons. Foremost, good teeth allow a child to eat well and maintain good nutrition. Healthy teeth allow for clear pronunciation and speech habits. The self-image that healthy teeth give a child is immeasurable.

Since primary teeth guide the permanent teeth into place, infants with missing primary teeth or infants who prematurely lose primary teeth may require a space maintainer, a device used to hold the natural space open. Without a maintainer, the teeth can tilt toward the empty space and cause permanent teeth to come in crooked. Missing teeth should always be mentioned to your pediatric dentist.

Infant Tooth Eruption

A child's teeth actually start forming before birth. As early as 4 months of age, the primary or “baby” teeth push through the gums—the lower central incisors are first, then the upper central incisors. The remainder of the 20 primary teeth typically erupt by age 3.

Permanent teeth begin erupting around age 6 - starting with the first molars and lower central incisors. This process continues until around age 21. Adults have 28 secondary (permanent) teeth - 32 including the third molars (wisdom teeth).

Tooth Eruption Chart

Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (known as Early Childhood Caries)

Tooth decay in infants can be minimized or totally prevented by not allowing infants to breast or bottle-feed to fall asleep. Infants who need a bottle to comfortably fall asleep should be given a water-filled bottle or a pacifier. Our office is dedicated to preventing and, if necessary, restoring early childhood tooth decay. Let us know if you notice any signs of cavities such as white, yellow or brown spots, chipping enamel or anything unusual in your child's mouth.

Thumb Sucking

Sucking fingers, pacifiers or other objects is completely normal for babies and young children. It provides security. For young babies, it is a way to make contact with and learn about the world. In fact, babies begin to suck on their fingers or thumbs even before they are born.

Most children stop sucking on thumbs, pacifiers or other objects on their own between 2 and 4 years of age. However, some children continue these habits over long periods of time.  These children may need the help of their parents and their pediatric dentist. When your child is old enough to understand the possible results of a sucking habit, your pediatric dentist can encourage your child to stop, as well as talk about what happens to the teeth and jaws if your child does not stop. This information, coupled with support from parents, helps most children quit. If this approach does not work, the pediatric dentist may recommend ways to change the behavior, including a mouth appliance that interferes with sucking habits. Frequent or intense habits over a prolonged period of time can affect the way the child’s teeth bite together, as well as the growth of the jaws and bones that support the teeth.

Here are some ways to help your child outgrow thumb sucking:

  • Don’t scold children when they exhibit thumb or finger sucking behavior; instead, praise them when they don’t thumb suck.
  • Focus on eliminating causes of anxiety or fatigue - thumb and finger sucking is a comfort device that helps children cope with stress or discomfort.
  • Praise children when they refrain from the habit during difficult periods.
  • Place a sock on their hand at night or a bandage on the thumb or at the elbow.


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