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Winchester, VA 22601
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Your Child’s First Dental Milestones: What to Do and When to Do It

The first dental milestones for children are important for their health as they grow.

It can be delightful to keep track of the milestones young children achieve on their own, such as first steps, first words, and more. But there are many other milestones that little ones can only reach with help from parents and caregivers. How do you make sure you don’t miss anything? If you’re wondering about your child’s dental “firsts” requiring your help and initiative, here’s what to do and when to do it. We’ve got you covered!

Oral care in infancy

It’s never too early to begin simple oral care. Even before your baby’s first teeth appear, you can establish a mouth cleaning routine twice a day by using a damp washcloth to gently clean his or her gums.

Related article: The Complete Guide to Keeping Your Child in Great Oral Health at Any Age

First tooth or teeth between ages 6 and 12 months

You can expect to see your child’s first tooth or teeth appear any time between ages 6 and 12 months. While children are teething, their gums may become tender and sore, and they may become fussier than usual, drool excessively, rub their cheeks, or pull at their ears. You can help alleviate teething discomfort by gently rubbing your child’s gums with a cool, wet cloth. A teething ring may also help. Occasionally, children also develop teething symptoms such as a slight fever, a rash, coughing, runny nose, vomiting, or diarrhea. Check with your pediatrician if any of these occur. 

First tooth, toothbrush, and flossing

As soon as your child’s first tooth appears, you can start brushing it twice a day if your child is comfortable with you doing so. Use a baby toothbrush, which has soft bristles and is specially designed for babies’ mouths), and fluoride-free toothpaste (until after age 2). If you’re not able to brush your child’s tooth or teeth at this early age, you can still use a damp washcloth to clean them gently.

Related article: Help Your Child Have a Healthy Mouth! Here’s How

Discontinue pacifier and sippy cup use between 9 and 15 months old

Pacifiers can be helpful for calming babies, and sippy cups can help them transition to using a regular cup. However, using either of these for too long may not allow their jaw bones to develop properly. It’s also important for growing children to develop a mature swallowing pattern, and using a sippy cup for too long may hinder this. For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends discontinuing pacifier use between 9 and 12 months of age, and stopping sippy cup use between ages 12 and 15 months. 

First dental appointment by age 1

Schedule the first dental appointment around the time your child is a year old, and keep up with regular dental visits as your dentist recommends. 

At your child’s first dental visit with Winchester Dental, we’ll count their teeth, and if they’re comfortable and willing, a hygienist will gently clean and polish the teeth. The dentist will look at your child’s facial development and discuss any necessary next steps with you. We typically wait until children are a few years older before we take their first dental x-rays. 

Help your child stop thumb-sucking around the age of 18 months

Some children never suck their thumbs. Others do, but stop on their own around the time they start eating solid food and learn to drink from a regular cup. Stopping this habit is an important part of a young child’s ability to develop a mature swallowing pattern and for proper facial development. Prolonged thumb-sucking causes the upper jaw to narrow and protrude, creating difficulties with the child’s airway, bite pattern, and muscle development. 

After your child reaches the age of 18 months, you can gently encourage them to stop sucking their thumb. But if they reach age 2 1/2 and still do not show signs of stopping, your dentist may be able to help.. 

Begin flossing your child’s teeth between ages 2 and 6

Between ages 2 and 6, your child’s primary teeth will continue to erupt. As soon as two or more teeth touch each other—which may even happen before age 2—you can begin flossing them once a day. It might be easiest to have your child lie down with the top of their head toward you. Either regular dental floss or children’s flossers are fine to use, and you may find it helpful to distract your child with music or an audio book for the few minutes it takes to floss their teeth. Afterwards, brush the teeth as usual.

This one-minute video from the American Dental Association gives simple instructions on flossing.

If your young child wants to try flossing on their own, encourage them to give it a try. Be patient, though—many children take more time to develop the fine motor skills needed for effective flossing, and may not get the hang of it until they’re closer to their teen years.

First orthodontic evaluation by age 3

Around the time your child reaches age 3, your dentist should perform an orthodontic evaluation. While this may seem rather early, it’s actually an ideal time to begin.

Functional orthodontic treatment, offered here at Winchester Dental, works to optimize your child’s facial growth so that their permanent teeth will have enough room to come in straight. In the past, dentists and orthodontists tended to wait until children’s permanent teeth had mostly come in before they began straightening them, believing that was the main goal. However, that thinking has begun to change. The first goal of functional orthodontic treatment is to promote proper facial growth during childhood, which—in addition to making room for permanent teeth—maximizes children’s developing airways for optimal breathing and sleep.

Related article: Dr. Gio Explains Functional Orthodontics

Why is it important to begin at such a young age? It’s because a child’s facial growth progresses rapidly during their early years. By age 4 it is 60% complete, by age 6, it’s 80% complete, and by age 11, it’s 90% complete. Beginning functional orthodontic treatment while children’s facial structure is still developing allows their faces to grow to comfortably accommodate their incoming permanent teeth. At an early age, treatment may only involve a simple device like a palate expander, which helps make room for the expected permanent teeth (32 as opposed to 20 primary teeth) and can help expand the airway, helping a child to breathe more easily. Of course every child is unique, but functional orthodontics is first and foremost a preemptive treatment. If further treatment is needed as a child grows older, there may be less correction needed and it may not take as long.

Is it time for your child’s dental visit? Schedule an appointment today!

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