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Shelley Shearer: The A.B.C.’s of caring for your baby’s teeth; start good, healthy habits early

One of the biggest decisions new parents face is when a baby should first see a dentist.

Should it be when the first tooth breaks through or when the youngster turns one? Or is it best to wait until all the baby teeth have grown in?

As a mother and a dentist, I have experienced firsthand the lingering questions involving tooth and mouth development. Here, for all young parents, are my ABCs of baby dental care.

Dr. Shelley Shearer

Approximately when should the first visit be scheduled?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child go to the dentist by the age of one or within six months after the first tooth emerges.

Using the child’s first birthday is an easy way to remember when to make the visit. It is the perfect time to have teeth and gums checked. Baby teeth, also known as primary teeth, are important to the little one’s development. These little chompers are vital because they:

 Help children develop clear speech

 Facilitate correct chewing and nutrition

 Prepare the landscape for the exact spots where the permanent teeth will take over

Baby teeth, brushing and pacifiers

Tooth brushing starts in infancy. It removes plaque bacteria that can lead to decay.

Soft-bristled, extra-small toothbrushes are now sold just for babies. The tooth brushing should occur at least once a day with a bit of flossing. If you do this at bedtime, it starts to build a routine that the child will follow for a lifetime. Make the session fun. Let them watch you. Parents are the best role models a child can have.

Dentists are often asked about pacifiers and thumb sucking.

Parents worry that the roof of the mouth will not develop correctly.That is true. Of even greater concern is deformity of the jawbone. Try to ween the little one off the pacifier as soon as possible. If using the pacifier or thumb/finger sucking persists too long, dentists have mouth appliances that will help dissuade the child from the habit. It is used starting at the age of three.

Every dental office encounters old fashioned remedies to quiet babies. While we are partial to our Kentucky heritage, definitely don’t use bourbon or any other kind of alcohol to soothe a teething baby’s gums. Dentists can prescribe or suggest ointments to reduce the pain of teething. Also, a crying baby should never be calmed with a pacifier dipped in honey or sugar. It’s an invitation to a future of gum disease. In some cases, gagging has occurred.

Remember: baby teeth are crucial to the mouth’s development.

Disease can cause a multitude of problems for years to come.

Tooth decay and jaw deformity also extends to nursing. Try not to let a baby fall asleep while nursing or with a bottle in their mouth.

Confidence-building for future visits

First visits are mostly about getting kids used to the dentist’s chair and educating parents about how to care for their baby’s teeth. Some dentists schedule a “happy visit.” Along with a parent the child watches the hygienist clean a patient’s teeth.

Then the little one is asked if they would like to sit in the chair. This gives the dentist a chance to conduct an evaluation of your child’s teeth, gums, jaw, bite, and oral tissues to see if there are any problematic areas that need attention. Depending on the assessment, a gentle cleaning or x-ray may be recommended. It’s also an opportunity to learn how to gently brush and even floss your little one’s teeth. By starting visits around the first birthday, chances are the toddler is too young to be nervous. This should make future appointments anxiety-free.

To prepare for the visit, see if your child can accompany you to your own dental appointment. Maybe grandma can come along to help. You can also “play dentist” at home. Examine each other’s teeth with a mirror and play the tooth-counting game. Say things like “open wide” to each other so the child becomes familiar with a typical exam.

Last, your dentist or local bookstore can recommend books on dental visits geared just for toddlers. With preparation and commitment to regular checkups, and knowing your ABCs, your child will enjoy a lifetime of fearless dental visits and a glorious smile for a lifetime.

Dr. Shelley Shearer is a graduate of the University of Louisville Dental School and Founder of Shearer Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Florence, the largest all-female dental practice in Northern Kentucky.

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