By Tamera Manzanares
Losing baby teeth should be exciting milestones for children, but that is not always the case. Annie Sadvar, dental hygienist for Northwest Colorado Health, has seen the consequences of poor dental health even in the smallest of children. “I’ve seen kids as young as age one with teeth so badly decayed that they have to be pulled,” she said. “Most people just don’t realize how vulnerable children are to cavities.”
Baby teeth may be temporary, but they play an important role in children’s health and development, affecting their ability to chew, speak, smile and learn. Decayed baby teeth can potentially cause infection affecting the growth of permanent teeth. When they are lost too early, baby teeth prematurely open up space that allows permanent teeth to come in crooked.
One of the most common causes of cavities in very young children is baby bottle tooth decay. Parents should avoid allowing their baby to sleep with a bottle of mild or juice. Wiping babies’ gums with a clean gauze pad helps remove any plague that can harm erupting teeth. As soon as baby teeth appear, parents can brush their child’s teeth twice a day with a child-size toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste in an amount no larger than a grain of rice.
Children can start learning to brush as soon as they can hold a toothbrush. Children age three to six should use a pea-size amount of toothpaste. Making brushing fun reinforces a good routine. Parents can make it a family affair, integrating games, songs and simple rewards, such as picking a bedtime story. Taking children shopping for a toothbrush or allowing them to pick from several toothbrushes each day can satisfy their growing independence and help them take ownership of their routine.
It’s easy to get lax on supervising children’s dental routines, but parents who stay vigilant will help their children avoid painful and potentially costly dental complications. “I saw a 12-year-old with gums so swollen they bled to the touch,” Sadvar said. “Too often parents are not following up, and their kids are paying the price.
Regular visits to a dental provider can start as soon as a child’s first tooth appears but no later than their first birthday. “The first appointment might be really short,” Sadvar said. “But the more comfortable the child becomes with the dental chair, the more willing they will be to continue participating in their dental health.”
Northwest Colorado Health provides dental care for all ages at clinics in Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek and Craig. Most insurance is accepted, including Medicaid. Families who do not have dental insurance can pay on a sliding scale. To make an appointment, call 970-824-8000.
This article includes information from mouthhealthy.org and the American Dental Association.