We worry about our children’s oral health from the time their first teeth come in until they head off to college as independent young adults. Education is the best form of prevention, so read on to arm yourself with the facts you need to know:
- Parents should begin cleaning their children’s teeth as soon as they grow in, using a damp cloth or baby toothbrush. Teeth should be uniform in color, so if you see any spots or stains, it’s wise to visit the dentist. All children should visit the dentist by age 1, since decay in baby teeth can cause problems in developing adult teeth.
- As children get older, and begin riding a bike or playing sports, mouth guards, helmets and face masks are important to protecting their teeth, face and bones. Make sure whatever your child wears for protection fits well and is appropriate to the activity. This is important to help prevent injuries or damage.
- Many preschoolers and elementary aged children grind their teeth while they sleep, and in some the habit continues into adolescence. This can be caused by teething, ear infections and nightmares, as well as stress and anxiety. While the habit is not as harmful to temporary baby teeth, it can damage permanent teeth, so be aware if your child exhibits signs of grinding, especially as they get older.
- It is common for children to have misaligned teeth, especially the lower front teeth. The preteen years are a good time for your child to visit an orthodontist. Although it may be too soon to consider braces, orthodontists can evaluate how teeth are growing. If there is crowding in the mouth, these specialists may recommend some baby teeth be removed, allowing permanent teeth to grow in properly.
- In their late teens, many children have already grown wisdom teeth, or they are forming in the gums. Your dentist will refer you to an oral surgeon to determine if those teeth need to be watched or removed. Wisdom teeth frequently don’t have room to grow into the mouth properly. If this is the case it is better to have them removed at a young age, before they cause damage to neighboring teeth or roots.
- Teeth grinding or jaw clenching are among the risk factors for TMJ disorder. The TMJ is the joint where the upper and lower jaw meet. Symptoms to watch for include pain in the jaw while eating or yawning, difficulty opening and closing the jaw and pain in the ears or teeth. There are many treatments for this condition, so if you suspect a problem, bring your child to an oral surgeon to learn more and discuss treatment options.
Parents don’t need to worry about every possible problem, but the key is to be proactive, and be aware of any symptoms that may need to be evaluated by a dentist or oral surgeon. A bit of prevention now can save your child from a lot of discomfort later.