By Erika L. Rowe | Photo by Daniel Friedman
Even though we are not able to see them, a baby’s primary teeth begin forming before birth. At around 4 to 6 months, the first teeth begin pushing through the gums. By the age of 3, all 20 primary teeth should be visible in your child’s mouth. It is more important that the teeth come out in the proper order than exactly on time as predicted by an eruption chart.
How can you get a head start on making sure that your little one is on the way to a healthy smile?
Before the first tooth appears you can use a warm, clean washcloth to gently swab the gums after every meal. Providing that consistent experience of cleaning the mouth will make it easier to introduce a toothbrush.
From the moment a tooth appears it is vulnerable to decay. When the first tooth erupts, gently brush with a soft toothbrush. Do not use fluoride toothpaste until your child can fully spit out what is in his or her mouth. This usually happens around age 3.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry strongly recommends that your little one visit a dentist soon after the eruption of the first tooth and at the latest before the first birthday. In our office this visit is called a “happy visit” and is free for our patients’ children. Check with your dentist to see if something similar is offered. The purpose is to create a happy experience sitting on mom’s or dad’s lap and lead to a lifetime of preventive dental care that will minimize the occurrence of dental decay and the health and financial challenges that come with it.
A question we frequently hear is, “Why are baby teeth so important to a child’s health when they are just going to fall out eventually? Why bother keeping them clean?” Primary teeth stay in place until permanent teeth underneath erupt, pushing them out and taking their place. Baby teeth are important to the development and growth of your child’s permanent smile and jaw. If a child loses a baby tooth prematurely due to decay and it is not replaced with a dentist-inserted, custom space-maintaining appliance, there may not be space for the larger permanent tooth to erupt, which will guarantee the need for extensive orthodontic correction later. Permanent teeth will begin to appear around age 6 and will continue erupting until around age 21.
Still thinking, “Why do I need to spend money now when she only has two teeth?” Taking your child to see the dentist before age 1 will actually save you money in the long run. A study in the journal Pediatrics showed that children who have their first dental visit before age 1 have 40 percent lower dental costs in their first five years than children who do not.
Erika L. Rowe, DMD is a dentist and part-time stay-at-home mom. She is the mother of Kole (2) and Lilly, who was born Jan. 19. She and her husband, Kurt N. Rowe, DMD, own a practice in North Central Phoenix called Rowe and Warren Family Dentistry.