4 Early Childhood Dental Concerns (And What To Do About Them)

It's easy to think of children as smaller versions of adults from a medical standpoint, when in fact they have their own age-specific health and wellness needs -- including dental and oral health issues. As a concerned parent, you need to understand these potential problems and make sure your pediatric dentist addresses them during the early years of a child's development. Here are four common concerns and how to manage them.

1. Retained Baby Teeth

Childhood is the one time of life when losing teeth isn't necessarily a cause for worry, as deciduous or "baby" teeth are pushed out by ingrowing permanent teeth. But if the Tooth Fairy has been conspicuously absent from your home, you might want to talk to your children's dentist. Different baby teeth tend to come out at different ages, and if your child has a baby tooth that has been retained for more than a year past its expected "expiration date," an extraction may be necessary to give the permanent tooth a chance to grow in correctly. Crooked baby teeth can also be corrected by applying braces.

2. Early-onset Tooth Decay

Your child's baby bottle could be a source of dental trouble. A condition known as "baby bottle tooth decay" can occur when babies consume lots of sweet drinks (such as fruit juice) from a bottle. Baby teeth are exposed to acids that can cause erosion as well as sugars known to attract bacteria. The result is early-onset tooth decay that can lead to painful cavities or even serious dental abscesses and gum disease. 

Fortunately, you can employ several strategies to prevent this threat. Giving your baby water instead of sugary drinks is the most obvious solution -- but don't forget that milk contains natural sugars as well. Wiping the gums and teeth with a clean, moistened cloth will help get rid of any milk residue. Your pediatric dentist may also recommend some sort of fluoride product for further protection against decay.

3. Teaching Dental Hygiene

No one comes out of the womb with the necessary dental hygiene knowledge, skills and habits. Children must be exposed to these routines as early in life as reasonably possible to ensure a lifetime of proper oral care. Start brushing your child's first few baby teeth as soon as they have grown in. Once your child is about two years old, teach proper brushing technique by example. (Flossing should be delayed until the age of four.) Let your kids watch you brush your teeth and then ask them to imitate you.

It's no secret that brushing and flossing aren't the most engrossing activities in the world, and small children will be tempted to rush through the process. You can reverse this tendency by making a game of it, handing out stickers or other awards based on how thoroughly your children clean their teeth.

4. Dental Phobia

Fear of the dentist can afflict patients of any age, but for a small child unfamiliar with the dentist's tools and techniques it can be especially terrifying. That's why it's so critical that you select a family practitioner who specializes in pediatric dentistry, a special discipline requiring extra education and training focused on the needs of young patients. This type of dentist knows how to put your children at ease, make friends with them, and help them overcome their fear of dental appointments. A child who doesn't fear the dentist has a better chance of growing into an adult who keeps up those all-important checkups and treatments.

From preventing tooth decay to establishing a healthy attitude toward dental health, children need special care and attention to ensure a healthy mouth. Ask your pediatric dentist for additional tips on how to give your child's teeth the best possible start in life!