Keep Your Kids’ Teeth Healthy

Nine tips from a local family dentist.

Most parents know that they want to prevent their children from getting cavities in their teeth. Beyond that, though, there are a number of important factors for parents to keep in mind — including when to schedule the first dental appointment.

Dr. Morgan Semaan is a general and family dentist, seeing patients of all ages at Birmingham Family Dentistry in Beverly Hills. A long-time Misch Implant Institute, Birmingham Family Dentistry shifted the focus of their practice to general and family dentistry when Semaan came on board.

Specializing in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the oral cavity, including the teeth and gums, Semaan earned her degree in dental surgery from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry. A new mom herself to a 16-month-old son with her husband, the Birmingham resident chose family dentistry because “I love the variety of procedures I get to do on a daily basis,” she says. “And I love the relationships I get to form with my patients and watching their families grow over the years. Plus, being able to change someone's life just by changing or enhancing their smile is incredibly rewarding.”

We turned to Semaan to get the low-down on what to know about keeping children’s teeth healthy.

1 Start brushing kids' teeth with a toothbrush and safe-to-swallow toothpaste as soon as the first tooth comes in — start using fluoride toothpaste at age three. 

2 Stop using a bottle at age one to prevent issues with tooth alignment. Stop using a pacifier and thumb-sucking by age three (or younger) to prevent issues with tooth alignment and bite. 

3 Always limit sugar intake in kids — “but if they do eat sugar, have them rinse with water after,” she says.

4 Schedule your child’s first dental visit by age one. This will be the child's first oral evaluation, where they should receive a complete “knee-to-knee exam.” Because this will be the child’s first introduction to the dentist's office and dental chair, “the dentist and parent will sit knee to knee while the child sits on the parent's lap with head in the dentist's lap,” Semaan says. The dentist will examine the child’s teeth for decay or enamel defects and will examine the gum tissue, making sure it looks healthy. The dentist will also observe the development of the teeth and jaws. The dental hygienist will clean the patient’s teeth and then apply fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral that helps prevent cavities. The hygienist will then go over brushing and flossing techniques that parents can do for the child at home, and will also ask the parent about the child's diet, making sure that sugar is limited and that the child is consuming tap water, which contains fluoride. 

5 Teeth that are discolored, broken or painful or gums that are red, swollen or bleeding should be looked at by a dentist. 

6 Parents should brush their child's teeth until around age six-to-eight years old, when the child's manual dexterity is fully developed. 

7 Preventative X-rays will be taken at hygiene visits starting around the age of two or three to help with diagnosis. 

8 Don’t serve your child juice under the age of one. If your child likes juice, only serve 100-percent fruit juice served in a cup (not bottle or sippy cup), limit to two-to-four ounces a day and serve only during mealtimes. 

9 After the first visit, parents should bring their kids to the dentist every six months for preventative dental cleanings and to allow for early detection of common diseases and conditions that impact overall health. Early detection can save the patient (and parent) considerable time, money and pain. 

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