Many people are not aware that good oral health starts from the time baby teeth are first in the mouth. Parents of some of our young patients ask when they should first bring their babies to the dentist. The answer is simple — they can start to see us for check ups and cleanings as soon as their first teeth come out. This is usually around age 6 months. By around age 3 most kids will have a full set of 20 baby teeth. While these babies/kids are still very little, a visit to the dentist will help familiarize them with the dentist and what goes on at a typical checkup/cleaning. We can also catch any problems early if they arise.
The best way to clean a young babies teeth (6 months to a year) is with a damp washcloth and wipe food/debris from the teeth. As a baby gets bigger (9 months to 1 year) you can start using a child size toothbrush with a small smear of toothpaste. You can let your curious baby start to use the toothbrush by themselves as they chew on the bristles and brush their tongue. But it is important for you to brush afterwards to make sure the teeth are in fact clean of food/plaque.
If the inevitable occurs and a baby tooth does form a cavity, a common question we get from parents is, “Why does it need to be fixed? Won’t the baby tooth just fall out?”
The answer to these questions is yes, it is extremely important to fill a cavity in a baby tooth. A cavity in a baby tooth (just like an adult/permanent tooth) can lead to pain and infection. If the cavity is left untreated it can grow and get bigger. This can cause sensitivity or worse, pain. If the cavity reaches the nerve of the tooth your child may experience greater discomfort and infection. This can even lead to an abscess and swelling.
It is best to treat any dental cavity or infection as soon as it is seen to not lead to these worse problems of pain and infection. If a baby tooth has to be pulled due to a large cavity or infection, other spacing issues can occur. As your child grows, teeth shift and move into any space they can find, leading to crowding and crooked teeth. If a baby tooth is lost early there may not be enough room for the permanent tooth to erupt properly into the mouth. This will then require an orthodontist to use braces, spacers, and other fixtures to physically move the teeth to make room for the permanent tooth.
In summary, healthy baby teeth are essential for healthy adult teeth. It is important to bring your baby to the dentist as early as their first tooth comes out and no later than their first birthday. If a baby tooth does form a cavity, it is critical to treat it so it does not lead to pain, infection, and further problems down the line that can affect the adult teeth.