Q: Do thumb sucking and pacifiers cause permanent damage?
A: A thumb-sucking habit is considerably more damaging because it's always with the child, therefore making it harder to stop, says Dr. Tegwyn Brickhouse, associate professor of pedodontics at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. When the child sucks on a thumb or pacifier, the maxillary (upper jaw) bone narrows and pushes up the bone in which the front teeth sit. As long as both habits are dealt with by age 3, before permanent teeth start forming, the damage will reverse, she says. There are oral devices available to curb thumb sucking, including the fixed palatal crib (a wire basket at the top of the mouth) and the Bluegrass appliance (a fixed acrylic ball that the child can flick with his or her tongue); both are designed to disassociate thumb sucking with a pleasant, satisfying experience.
Q: When should I take my child to the dentist for
the first time?
A: The American Academy of Pediatrics says age 3, but the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests the first visit should be between 12 and 18 months of age, or six months after the first tooth appears, says Dr. Roger Wood, a pediatric dentist with Wood, Dunlevy, Lombardozzi and Eddleton. Why so young? Prevention. Wood says that by the age of 3, 50 percent of kids already have tooth decay.
Q: How do I clean my child's first teeth?
A: Infant teeth can be wiped down with a wet rag, says Dr. Tina Ressler, a dentist with W. Baxter Perkinson Jr. & Associates, who sees patients of all ages. Next, progress to brushing two to three times a day with fluoride-free toothpaste. Fluorinated toothpaste can be used by age 4 or 5, when children can spit.
Q: What foods and habits should be avoided in order to protect my child's teeth?
A: Avoid foods such as gummy vitamins, granola and cereal bars, dried fruit, Kool-Aid, and potato chips since they contain ingredients that
get stuck between the teeth, Wood says. And because the bacterium that breaks down food and milk creates acid that eats away at teeth, don't put a child to bed with a bottle or immediately after a bottle, and don't breastfeed on demand
Q: When will my child lose his or her baby teeth and gain permanent teeth? Are baby teeth a good predictor of adult teeth (i.e., the need for braces)?
A: "If you got them early, you tend to lose them early," says Dr. Jeffrey Blair, a pediatric dentist with a private practice. "I tell parents, you lose the first eight [teeth] by 8, and the remaining 12 by [age] 12." There are six-year and 12-year molars as well as wisdom teeth, which usually come in around age 17 or 18. A bit of space between baby teeth is best, Blair says, because if the teeth are crowded, the larger adult teeth will be, too, and decay is more likely to occur in crowded teeth.