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Keeping Your Child's Teeth Healthy (Part 1)

When should I schedule my child's first trip to the dentist? Should my 3-year-old be flossing? How do I know if my child needs braces? Many parents have a difficult time judging how much dental care their children need. They know they want to prevent cavities, but they don"t always know the best way to do so.

When to Start Caring for a Child"s Teeth

Proper dental care begins even before a baby's first tooth appears. Remember that just because you can"t see the teeth doesn"t mean they aren"t there.

Teeth actually begin to form in the second trimester of pregnancy. At birth your baby has 20 primary teeth, some of which are fully developed in the jaw.

Running a damp washcloth over your baby"s gums following feedings can prevent buildup of damaging bacteria. Once your child has a few teeth showing, you can brush them with a soft child"s toothbrush or rub them with gauze at the end of the day.

Even babies can have problems with dental decay when parents do not practice good feeding habits at home. Putting your baby to sleep with a bottle in his or her mouth may be convenient in the short term — but it can harm the baby"s teeth. When the sugars from juice or milk remain on a baby's teeth for hours, they may eat away at the enamel, creating a condition known as bottle mouth. Pocked, pitted, or discolored front teeth are signs of bottle mouth. Severe cases result in cavities and the need to pull all the front teeth until the permanent ones grow in.

Parents and child care providers should also help young children develop set times for drinking during the day as well because sucking on a bottle throughout the day can be equally damaging to young teeth.

Pediatric Dentists

You may want to take your child to a dentist who specializes in treating kids. Pediatric dentists are trained to handle the wide range of issues associated with kids" dental health. They also know when to refer you to a different type of specialist such as an orthodontist to correct an overbite or an oral surgeon for jaw realignment.

A pediatric dentist"s primary goals are prevention, heading off potential oral health problems before they occur, and maintenance, ensuring through routine checkups and proper daily care that teeth and gums stay healthy.

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