While infants under 12 months old may only have a few teeth, experts say they should been seen by a dentist within the first year of life. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry's revised guidelines on infant oral health recommend infants 6 to 12 months old should to be seen by a dentist. More than 40 percent of children have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten. In order to help prevent tooth decay, dental experts at Nationwide Children's Hospital are reminding parents to schedule dental appointments for their toddlers.
Studies have shown that if children experience tooth decay in their baby teeth, they are more likely to develop tooth decay in their permanent teeth. By bringing their child to a dentist at an early age, parents learn about the structure of the child's mouth, preventative information on infant oral health and introduce their toddlers to the act of brushing their teeth.
"Infant oral health is the foundation for preventing future tooth decay," said Paul Casamassimo, DDS, MS, chief of Dentistry at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "If a child experiences tooth decay at an early age, it is a very difficult process to stop. The purpose of this initial visit is not only to introduce these toddlers to visiting the dentist, but also to provide preventative information to prevent tooth decay."
The Dental Clinic at Nationwide Children's sees about 35,000 patients and many of these patients under the age of 3. Dr. Casamassimo and his team formed a Baby Dental Clinic in the early 90s for toddlers from birth to 3-years-old. As one of the first baby dental clinics in the country, this clinic has proven to be successful in helping educate families on infant oral health.
"By establishing the relationship between family and dentist, parents learn early on how to take care of their toddler's teeth," said Dr. Casamassimo, also professor of Pediatric Dentistry at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. "Taking a proactive approach to infant oral care can make a difference that will last a life time."
For parents of a toddler, here are a few tips for taking care of a toddler's teeth:
- Move your toddler off the bottle as soon as possible. By no later than one year, toddlers should be drinking liquids from some form of a cup
- When your toddler's teeth start coming in, start brushing their teeth to get them used to the idea of brushing
- Confine sugar intake to mealtime. Experts suggest sugared-sweetened beverages should not be consumed throughout the day
During a toddler's first dental visit, parents can expect to meet with a dental hygienist and a dentist. Normally seated in a parent-assisted position (knee-to-knee), the hygienist or dentist will do a brief examination of the toddler's mouth; they are examining the oral structure of the mouth while also introducing the toddler to the feeling of a toothbrush. After the examination, parents will learn about dental and oral development, fluoride adequacy, teething, non-nutritive habits, injury prevention, dietary information and oral hygiene instructions. The hygienist or dentist will also explain future age-specific needs and dental milestones including scheduling the next appointment.