It’s never too early to start caring about your child’s teeth. Starting them on a path to good oral health ensures that they’ll enjoy a bright, healthy smile when they’re older.
Of course, the road to protecting their pearly whites starts before they even have adult teeth. The following are three of the leading causes of oral health problems among babies and small children, and they are preventable.
Few things are cuter than a baby falling asleep with their thumb in their mouth. Thumb-sucking is not normal and can be a sleep aid for babies. While you don’t have to worry about dental problems if there’s only thumb-sucking during bedtime, it can prove troublesome if it extends during the day.
The good news is that even if your kid suffers dental deformities with their primary teeth, they usually correct themselves once their permanent adult teeth come in. However, excess and/or forceful thumb-sucking can cause a number of problems, including: an overbite (front teeth protruding out of the mouth), open bite (top and bottom teeth don’t meet while the mouth is closed), bottom teeth pointing inward, and other changes to the shape of the teeth. Many of these deformities can even cause kids to develop a lisp or have overly sensitive teeth.
If they haven’t dropped the habit on their own between the ages of two and four, consider speaking to your dentist or pediatrician. Strategies they may recommend include alternative strategies for stressful situations that may be causing them to suck their thumb. Instead of completely forbidding them or punishing them, try positive reinforcement or distraction.
Pacifiers have many benefits, in fact the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends them over thumb-sucking. Research has shown that pacifiers help with pain relief during medical procedures and can even help shorten hospital stays. Pacifiers are also said to reduce the possibility of sudden infant death syndrome and are easier for children to abandon when they get older.
On the other hand, many experts believe that pacifier use after 12 months can affect language development skills because it discourages the practice of making sounds and saying words. One of the best ways to wean infants and toddlers off the pacifier is to do it slowly. Wean them off by only giving it to them at bedtime, and offer alternative comforts such as a stuffed animal or soft blanket.
Bottle rot is the term used for when your baby’s first teeth become infected. This usually happens when young children fall as asleep with a bottle in their mouth. Drinks like milk, formula and juice — all of which contain sugar — produce acid-causing bacteria. Fortunately there are plenty of methods you can take to prevent bottle rot.
The best approach is to start giving your baby a bottle of water during nap and bedtime while also reducing how much sugar they consume each day. Wiping your baby’s gums and small teeth with a clean washcloth after eating will also help. Avoid dipping a pacifier in sweet substances like honey or sugar. You should also never use your own mouth to clean a baby’s pacifier or eat from their spoon as bacteria in your mouth can wreak havoc in theirs.
You can avoid pediatric oral health problems by understanding theses common causes of tooth decay. Being diligent about what your child eats and drinks and taking them to visit the dentist early can go a long way towards establishing strong oral health for a lifetime.
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