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Dental Care for Kids

Tips for Keeping Your Child's Smile Bright and Healthy

Article by Huy D. Lam, DDS

Photography by Katy Lam, Huy Lam

Originally published in Cypress Lifestyle

When should a child have their first dental visit, and how often should they go?

Children should have their first visit around six months or as soon as their first tooth erupts. This allows us to start establishing that the dental office is a safe place, so if they ever need treatment in the future, we can carry out treatment with the child’s trust. It also gives us an opportunity to consult with parents on proper oral hygiene and diet.

Do children need to see a pediatric dentist or do general dentists see kids?

I treat children and most general dentists do as well. However, we may refer a child to a pediatric dentist if they need extensive treatment, and it is in the best interest of the patient due to age, anxiety levels, and cooperativeness.

When should kids start brushing their teeth? Start brushing for children as soon as the first tooth erupts and continue to brush for them until they can do a thorough job. Be sure to use a children’s toothpaste with fluoride that has an American Dental Association seal of approval. For children under 3 years old, use about the size of a grain of rice. For children 3-6 years old, use a pea-sized amount.

My kids have spaces between their baby teeth, is that okay?

Spaces between primary (baby) teeth are a good thing! These spaces mean the bigger permanent (adult) teeth will have room to grow in and reduce the chance of crowding as they get older. It also facilitates cleaning between baby teeth and reduces the risk of cavities. Remember, baby teeth maintain space for bigger adult teeth, so we want to keep them as long as possible.

What are some tooth issues to watch out for?

Thumb-sucking is a habit that can cause dental issues later such as an open-bite (the front teeth not coming together) or changes in the arch of the teeth. These issues are more complex to correct and contribute to longer orthodontic treatment. Also, if you see changes in the color of the teeth such as darkness or brown/black spots, severe wear or chips, or holes, see a dentist for an exam.

How can parents make it fun for their kids to care for their teeth?

Choose a toothbrush that looks fun to use! We use a banana silicon toothbrush with our son. He loves brushing with it because it has two large handles for him to hold and is extremely soft on his teeth and gums. Second, make it a family event, and brush as a family. See who can brush for a full two minutes (studies have shown the average time spent brushing is about 40 seconds with a manual toothbrush). Lastly, hum a song for 2 minutes. ABCs is a classic.

When do baby teeth come in, and when are they finished coming in?

A rule of thumb is “7+4.” At seven months the child has their first tooth coming in and by 11 months “7+4,” there will be four teeth. Every four months onwards (15, 19, 23 months...) they will get four more teeth. This is only a guideline. I’ve seen first teeth as early as five months and the last tooth coming out as late as 36 months. Every child is different, but if you have a concern, do not hesitate to consult with your dentist.

You and your wife, Katy, just had your first child. What kind of dental habits are you teaching him?

We avoid foods and beverages high in sugar. Sometimes juices have almost as much sugar as soft drinks so make sure you check. I look in his mouth from time to time, and he has become used to my “dental check-ups” and opens for me without resistance. Lastly, we brush his teeth each morning and after his last meal or milk for the night.

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