Your child’s mouth: What’s going on in there?


February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. The American Dental Association recommends what the correct dental care is and what normal dental development looks like for a child’s dental health.

Although the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Dental Clinic does not treat dependents, the 355th Dental Squadron dentists, hygienists, technicians and staff are happy to answer questions to ensure parents are doing all they can for children’s oral health.

The ADA recommends the first dental visit after the appearance of the first baby tooth and no later than 12 months. This visit can screen for any anomalies in the soft tissues, bones and teeth that can affect a child’s development. This visit also gives the child exposure to the dental environment, paving the way for a lifetime of positive dental visits.

Early exams are often done “knee to knee” with the dentist; the child sits on the parent’s lap facing the parent. The parent leans the child back to allow the dentist to take a quick look. These visits should continue every six months, although some children may require more or fewer visits.

Exams starting at the age of 4 may include X-rays. These are necessary when the back teeth begin to touch, as evidenced when floss makes a “snap” as it is pressed between the teeth. The bitewing X-rays allow the dentist to see between the teeth, one of the most common locations for cavities in both baby and adult teeth.

In normal development, baby teeth appear between 6 and 30 months. There are 20 baby teeth. Around the age of 6, the permanent first molars begin to appear. Adult incisors (front teeth) begin to appear from ages 6 to 9, then canines and premolars between 9 and 13, and finally the second molars around the age of 13.

During this period of mixed dentition (baby and adult teeth), baby teeth function as a guide for the adult teeth to come in normally. Therefore, it is important to take care of baby teeth to avoid cavities or premature loss of the teeth. However, if a baby tooth is knocked out, it should not be replaced in the socket as this can damage the permanent tooth. The dentist can make a retainer to maintain the space to allow development to continue normally.

The adult teeth guide the development of the facial bones. Therefore, once adult teeth come in, the dentist will begin to screen for cross bites or other malocclusions that might adversely affect the development of the bones. These malocclusions are often associated with a sucking or tongue-thrusting habit past age 3. Some encouragement from the parents may be warranted if the child does not quit on their own. A dentist can develop a plan to help with habit cessation. It is far easier to correct skeletal developmental issues early on than to surgically correct them after development is complete.

As for home care, parents should begin after birth cleaning children’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush or a cloth and water. Once the first tooth appears, begin brushing twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste. Use an infant toothbrush and a smear of toothpaste for children under 2 and a pea-sized amount between ages 2 and 5.

Soft, age-appropriate toothbrushes and any fluoridated toothpaste should be used. Brushing to a song is a great way to ensure the child brush long enough. Supervision of brushing is recommended until the age of 10.

Flossing is important as soon as contact develops between the back teeth. This is generally around age 4. Flossing is important for cavity prevention as well as to develop good flossing habits early on. Although children are not prone to gum disease, learning to floss early will ensure children have the skills to prevent gum disease when they reach adolescence.

Diet plays a huge role in cavity development. For infants, avoid frequent night-time bottle feeding with milk as the sugar in milk can cause cavities. Minimize the child’s exposure to sugary snacks and drinks. Limit juice, soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages to snack time and avoid juice in bottles or sippy cups.

Finally, an often overlooked aspect of children’s oral health is the parent’s oral health. Improved oral health during pregnancy is associated with healthier babies. Parents with a high rate of cavities can increase their child’s risk for early childhood cavities. Additionally, children are more likely to form good dietary and oral habits by watching their parents.

Courtesy of 355th DS

Coming your way …

The 355th DS will present fun, oral-health activities for children in February at the following locations:

Feb. 7 and 8 at D-M Child Development Center

Feb. 9 at Hollinger Elementary (Kinder classes)

Feb. 12 at Borman Elementary (K-2 classes)

Feb. 26 at 5:30 p.m. Education night for parents at the Hope Chapel