From the first tooth sprouted to the first tooth lost, your child’s baby teeth mark important milestones in their health and development. Also called primary teeth, your child’s baby teeth give them what they need to properly chew, eat, and speak until their permanent teeth start erupting around age six or seven. Your child’s baby teeth are also placeholders for their permanent (adult) teeth and contribute to the development of your child’s jaws and bite.
Because they play such a vital role in your child’s speech, nutrition, and general well-being, in most cases, baby teeth should be preserved until they’re ready to fall out naturally. By consistently following a few simple steps, you can help your child build the foundation for a healthy smile that lasts a lifetime.
General and Oral Hygiene
Oral Hygiene for Young Teeth at Every Stage
Birth to Three Years
You can start caring for your baby’s oral health before their first tooth even comes in by gently wiping their gums with a clean, moist washcloth or gauze pad after feedings.
Once your child has sprouted their first tooth, use a soft, baby-sized toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste in an amount no larger than a grain of rice to gently brush your child’s baby teeth twice daily. When your child has two or more teeth that touch, add once-daily flossing to their oral health routine.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommends your child have their first dental visit within six months of getting their first tooth or by their first birthday.
Three to Six Years
By age three, your child likely has all or most of their baby teeth and are ready to start learning how to spit out toothpaste during brushing. Continue to bring your child in for routine dental visits and brush your child’s teeth with a soft, age-appropriate toothbrush with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, ensuring they spit (and not swallow) the toothpaste.
You can also help your child experience their best oral health and avoid cavities (called early childhood caries) by providing water at naptime and bedtime and reducing sugar between meals.
Your child likely still needs help brushing and flossing their teeth until they’re seven or eight, and may benefit from supervision until age 10. Along with proper brushing and flossing and twice-annual dental visits, you can help keep your child’s smile healthy and prevent cavities by avoiding sticky, sugary, and acidic snacks and drinks, like candy, cookies, sodas, and fruit juices. Instead, choose fruits, veggies, cheese, whole grains, water, and plain cow or alternative milk.
Laughing Gas (nitrous oxide)
Laughing Gas for Kids
Formally known as nitrous oxide, laughing gas is a mild sedative that can help your child stay calm and relaxed during their dental treatment. A form of sedation dentistry, laughing gas may be helpful if your child experiences dental anxiety or has special needs. Laughing gas may also be recommended if your child has a strong gag reflex or is receiving simultaneous dental treatments during the same visit.
Laughing Gas Process
Before beginning a dental treatment, your child’s dental team will place a small mask over their nose, which delivers a combination of oxygen and nitrous oxide to your child while they breathe in. Laughing gas has a subtle sweet smell, which can help your child concentrate on breathing through their nose.
Within a few minutes, your child will experience a greater sense of relaxation and happiness, though they will remain awake throughout their treatment. Once your child feels relaxed, Dr. May will numb the treatment area with a shot of local anesthesia.
Once their treatment is complete, your child’s dental team will deliver pure oxygen for a few minutes to help clear out any remaining sedation medication and promote homeostasis. Though many children don’t experience any side effects, your child may experience fatigue, headache, nausea, dizziness, sweating, or vomiting in the hours following their visit.
Your child’s dental team will provide you with detailed preparation and aftercare instructions to help prevent side effects and support a positive dental experience.
Dental caries (commonly called cavities) are the most common chronic disease of childhood. Cavities are largely preventable through healthy lifestyle choices and a consistent oral hygiene routine, though they may still happen despite your best efforts to help your child’s smile stay healthy. Learning your child has a cavity can be hard news for a parent, but take heart and know that a cavity doesn’t indicate you’ve done anything wrong. What matters most is to keep calm, carry on with your best efforts, and seek timely treatment and guidance from your kid’s dentist.
Potential Signs of Tooth Decay
As the symptoms of tooth decay can vary widely from child to child, the best way to know if your child has a cavity is to maintain twice-annual visits or schedule an appointment with Dr. May if you have any concerns. Some common signs your child may have a cavity include:
- White, brown, or black spots on the teeth: White spots may indicate that your child’s tooth enamel is eroding, which increases their likelihood of tooth decay or uncomfortable sensitivity. Light brown spots typically indicate an early cavity, while brown or black spots indicate that a cavity has already formed.
- Tooth sensitivity: Both enamel erosion or a cavity can cause sensitivity to heat, cold, or sweet or sour tastes.
- Toothache or pain: A cavity may cause a toothache or pain in the gum tissue that surrounds the affected tooth.
Dental Fillings for Kids
Cavity treatment for toddlers and children has all the elements of cavity treatment for adults with special consideration for your child’s comfort needs. Your child’s dental team will first ensure your child is comfortable with sedation techniques, such as laughing gas, if needed. Once your child is relaxed, they’ll receive a shot of local anesthetic before Dr. May carefully drills out tooth decay and seals the tooth with a durable filling.
Like adult teeth, baby teeth contain delicate living tissues (called pulp) that can become infected or inflamed if exposed to deep tooth decay. Often causing discomfort or pain, diseased tooth pulp can make it difficult for your child to chew their food and stay asleep. If left untreated, the affected baby tooth may be lost prematurely, which can impact the development of your child’s smile, bite, and speech.
A pulpotomy can bring your child relief and help them preserve their baby teeth until they’re ready to shed naturally.
Pulpotomies for Little Teeth
Also known as pulp therapy or a “baby root canal,” a pulpotomy is a common dental procedure that’s used to remove damaged pulp tissue from an injured or deeply decayed tooth. While a pulpectomy (full root canal) removes tooth pulp from every part of an affected tooth, a pulpotomy only removes pulp from the crown of the tooth (called coronal pulp), leaving the roots of the tooth intact.
Your child’s comfort during a pulpotomy treatment is our highest priority. Along with offering the option of laughing gas (nitrous oxide), our team will work with you to ensure your child (and you!) feels safe and relaxed.
Once your child has received a local anesthetic, Dr. May will carefully remove damaged pulp from your child’s tooth. After sanitizing the remaining pulp, Dr. May will seal the tooth with putty and complete treatment with a protective stainless steel crown.
You can help your child have a positive dental experience by reassuring them that they won’t feel any pain during their treatment and their teeth will feel so happy and healthy once it’s complete. You can also help keep stress at bay by dressing your child in comfortable clothing and bringing a comfort item, like a stuffed animal or blanket.
Stainless Steel Crowns
Your child’s baby teeth are meant to last anywhere between five and nine years, though their longevity can be compromised by injury or tooth decay. While the impulse may be to simply pull the compromised baby teeth or allow it to fall out naturally, restoring the health and structure of an infected tooth is vital for your child’s oral and overall well-being.
Stainless Steel Crowns in Granite City, IL
Also known as a pediatric crown, a stainless steel crown is a tooth-shaped cover that is used to repair a severely decayed tooth, restore function, and promote longevity. Stainless steel crowns are durable and affordable and can also be used to protect a tooth that’s broken, misshapen, or has not developed correctly. If a cavity has infected or irritated a baby tooth’s delicate living tissue (called pulp), a pulpotomy (baby root canal) will first be performed to alleviate pain and prevent the tooth from dying.
Placement of Stainless Steel Crown
Stainless steel crowns are pre-formed into a variety of shapes and sizes, which means placement can usually be achieved in a single dental visit. After removing areas of damage or decay, Dr. May will customize your child’s stainless steel crown to fit securely and comfortably. As stainless steel is incredibly durable, crowns very rarely need to be repaired or replaced and are likely to last until your child’s baby teeth are ready to fall out naturally.
You can help prepare your child for their dental crown by talking with them openly and positively about the way their smile will change. You might try explaining how their new “silver hat” will shield their special tooth from “sugar bugs” (oral bacteria), so they can eat their favorite foods, sing their favorite songs, and smile big.
Your child’s baby teeth set the stage for your child’s oral health and development. Along with allowing your child to chew their food and clearly speak, your child’s baby teeth guide the alignment of their permanent adult teeth. If one or more baby teeth are lost prematurely to injury or disease or are missing congenitally (from birth), your child’s emerging permanent teeth may “drift” into a space that was intended for another tooth, increasing the likelihood of crooked, misaligned, or overcrowded teeth.
You can help maintain a more ideal alignment of your child’s smile with a custom-made space maintainer from Metro East Dental Care.
Space Maintainers for Healthy Smile Development
Space maintainers are simple dental appliances that prevent your child’s teeth from drifting into a space left by a baby tooth that was lost early or is missing congenitally. Made of metal, plastic, or a combination of the two, space maintainers are made from impressions of your child’s smile and can be fixed or removable.
Fixed space maintainers are cemented onto adjacent teeth, which can be especially helpful for young children who may remove, lose, or play with their new dental appliance. Removable space maintainers resemble an orthodontic retainer and may also contain a prosthetic tooth to fill the gap of a prominent tooth.
Dr. May will use X-rays to determine when your child’s permanent teeth are ready to erupt and the space maintainer is no longer needed. If your child has a congenitally missing tooth or teeth, they may wear their space maintainer until their jaws have developed enough to support a dental implant restoration.
Your child will get the most out of their space maintainer when combined with daily oral hygiene and cleaning, twice-annual dental visits, a healthy diet, and keeping non-food items (like pens and toys) out of their mouth.
“My daughter saw Dr. May today and had an amazing experience! She gives him two giant thumbs up. He was extremely patient with her and funny too! Thank you, Doc!”
• Brittany R.
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