Children’s oral care is vital from the start.
Just like the rest of your body, your teeth go through different stages as you grow and change. Milestones along the way affect your teeth, so brushing up on your knowledge about tooth development will help you remain a step ahead of any potential problems and keep teeth strong for as long as possible.
For parents, knowing what to expect at each stage of their children’s oral development is crucial. We’ve outlined some tooth care tips for the various stages of a child’s smile to ensure it’s beautiful from cradle to college.
Birth – 6 Months
Baby’s first smile will appear well before their teeth come through, and with it, the need to care for that toothless grin. Gently clean the gums with a soft, damp washcloth post-feeding to avoid any potentially harmful bacteria. Ensuring that your baby’s oral health gets off to the right start is an essential part of protecting their long-term health, so it’s important to know what to expect as your child begins teething.
Some babies (infants and young children too) may suck on thumbs, other fingers, or pacifiers. Avoid dipping pacifiers in sugar, honey, juice, or similar substances as this can lead to tooth decay. Tooth decay can also begin when cavity-causing bacteria passed from saliva in a mother or caregiver’s mouth to the baby, so be sure to refrain from putting things in your mouth before putting them in your baby’s mouth.
6 – 12 Months
First teeth appear anywhere between 6 and 10 months, though in some cases they appear as early as 3 months, or as late as 12 months. Baby teeth can arrive in any order, although the lower incisors are often first, followed by the upper incisors. The first molars are usually next, followed by the canines and second molars. But whatever age or order, there’s nothing quite like that little tooth peeking out of that gummy smile.
Treasure it and protect it, gently brushing your baby’s new teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled, infant toothbrush with a rice-sized dab of fluoridated toothpaste, ideally in the morning and before bed. And remember that as soon as your child’s first tooth appears, it’s time to schedule a dental visit. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends your child’s first dental checkup take place within six months after the first tooth appears, but no later than a child’s first birthday. Then it’s recommended to visit a dentist every six months.
12 – 24 Months
Diet plays an important role in tooth care. After 12 months of age, offer water between meals and forgo the sippy cup of milk at bedtime, replacing it with water too. Bottled water may not contain fluoride and children who regularly drink bottled or non-fluoridated tap water may be missing the benefits of fluoride, a mineral that occurs naturally in all water sources and that helps make tooth enamel more resistant to decay.
As before, brush your child’s teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a rice-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. Stand or sit behind your child and cup your child’s chin in your hands with their head resting against your body. Angle the bristles of the toothbrush towards the gum and brush the outer and insides of the teeth along the gumline, paying close attention to the chewing surfaces of the teeth. Have fun with it, perhaps singing as you brush – children are more likely to go along with cleaning teeth if it’s enjoyable. Be sure to replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months or when the bristles get worn or frayed.
2 – 5 Years
For most children, all 20 baby teeth should have arrived by 3 years of age. Increase the amount of toothpaste used to a pea-sized amount and brush their teeth thoroughly twice per day. Toddlers often don’t want to spend time brushing their teeth but by sticking to a set time each morning and night you’ll help them learn that brushing teeth is part of the daily routine.
Letting your child hold the toothbrush with you will have them feel they’re part of the action, but know your child needs your help and supervision with cleaning teeth until they’re around 8 years old. It’s time to break the thumb-sucking habit and/or pacifier usage – talk to your dentist about strategies to avoid dental issues arising. Offer smile-healthy snacks such as raw, crunchy fruits and vegetables, cheese, and yogurt. Limit starchy soft foods that can stick to their teeth, as well as those high in sugar.
5 – 8 Years
Front teeth fall out around 6 to 7 years of age, allowing for those gorgeous school photographs with missing front teeth, while also making way for the all-important adult teeth – not to mention the much-anticipated visit from the tooth fairy!
Now’s the time to introduce flossing, especially if your child’s adult teeth begin to touch. Flossing loosens the particles that brushing misses. It also removes plaque, and in so doing prevents the buildup of tartar. While it’s easy to brush plaque away with regular oral hygiene practices, you need a dentist to remove tartar, which is why regular dentist visits are so important. The ADA recommends flossing at least once a day, wrapping the floss in a ‘C-shape,’ and covering as much surface area of the tooth as possible. Gently move the floss up and down along the outer surface and under the gum tissue.
8 – 18 Years
From 6 to 12 years, children have a mixture of adult and baby teeth, with most having all of their adult teeth – save for their wisdom teeth – by 12 years of age. The back teeth (the ones used for chewing) fall out sometime between the ages of 10 to 12 years. Your child might find chewing difficult during this phase but brushing twice a day is still paramount, as is flossing daily. Take extra care around loose teeth or sensitive areas and let loose teeth fall out on their own. If you try to pull out a tooth before it’s ready to fall out, it can not only injure the gums and nearby teeth, it can also cause pain and infection.
Healthy eating is more important now than ever, so skip the soda and make time for good nutrition. Teens are notoriously stressed, which can lead to teeth grinding, so keep abreast of symptoms and speak to your dentist about recommended treatments. Wearing a mouthguard when playing sports will reduce the risk of sports-related dental trauma and ensure a winning smile is on show when your team wins.
Orthodontic braces are a right of passage into teendom but regardless of whether your teen needs braces, the teenage mouth is still developing and adjusting. This period extends all the way into young adulthood when molars push their way through, so continue to nurture your teeth through this stage into adulthood. Prepare for that perfect graduation smile by brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and continuing to get regular checkups so as to make sure your teeth and gums are in their best shape.
Visit We Make Kids Smile for guidance through each stage of oral health.
No matter your age, the health of your mouth is of the utmost importance. By following the above tips and ensuring regular visits with a pediatric dentist, your child will keep their smiles beautiful from cradle to college and beyond. Schedule an appointment at our Prince Frederick or Waldorf pediatric dentist office, and we’ll be happy to show you how to care for your teeth at each stage of development.