As we get older, oral care needs change. Dental care is different for pregnant women, babies, children, teens, and adults. A baby’s first tooth erupts at 6 months old, and typically no later than 1 year of age. Dentist visits should begin within six months of a baby’s first tooth eruption.
Throughout life, everyone has two different phases of teeth (dentitions):
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The primary dentition phase consists of 20 primary teeth, including:
For reference, teeth are arranged in the upper jaw (maxillary teeth) and lower jaw (mandibular teeth):
The first primary tooth erupts when a baby is about 6 months old. The two bottom front teeth (central incisors) are commonly the first teeth to erupt in infants. After all of the incisors erupt in the upper and lower jaws, a child’s “12-month” primary molars grow in. Then canines erupt, along with second molars, which are also called “24-month” molars. Baby teeth do not include premolars. This is because permanent premolars replace a baby’s primary molars.
A child will lose their first primary tooth at age 6 or 7. The last primary tooth sheds at around age 12. Even though primary teeth aren’t permanent, it is still crucial to take care of baby teeth as early as possible. Doing so helps build healthy habits as they become teenagers and young adults. Encouraging children to care for their teeth also reduces the chance of gum disease and cavities in permanent teeth.
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After a child is out of the “mixed dentition” phase, when they have a mixture of baby teeth and permanent teeth, they will move into the permanent dentition phase. During this transition, it is essential to make sure your child has an established dental care routine to keep their new permanent teeth healthy. This includes brushing, flossing, fluoride, and regular dental exams.
There are 32 permanent teeth, including:
As children lose primary teeth, larger permanent teeth replace them. The main difference between the two dentitions is that there are four wisdom teeth (third molars) and eight premolars in a permanent set of teeth. Permanent teeth begin to grow in at age 6 or 7 and stop erupting at age 13. Third molars, or wisdom teeth, do not grow in until 17 to 21 years of age and are often removed before erupting.
The earlier a child begins dental treatment, the better off they are in the long run. As one reaches adulthood, they will have healthy dental habits ingrained into their lifestyle. In turn, they are less likely to develop gum disease or deep cavities.
Staying on top of oral health and dental care during pregnancy is crucial to ensure a newborn has a healthy start. This includes:
Many new mothers don’t realize how important dental care during pregnancy is. Just as negative food choices, alcohol, and drugs negatively impact a child’s health in the womb, poor oral hygiene has an extreme impact as well. A mother’s oral health standing is a strong predictor of how her child’s oral health will be as they grow up.
As behavior, diet, and nutrition change throughout pregnancy, a common result is the production of dental caries. If a pregnant woman has a higher risk of tooth decay, it’s more likely that her child will develop them as well. A mother may unintentionally pass cavity-causing bacteria to a susceptible newborn, increasing their risk for cavities, tooth decay, or even gum disease.
If gingivitis is left untreated, it can turn into periodontal disease (PD), which affects the supporting tissues of teeth. The primary symptom of PD is when the gums become red and swollen from inflammation. Risks of PD during pregnancy include:
"Roughly 60 to 75 percent of pregnant women have gingivitis."
Paying close attention to oral hygiene during pregnancy is a key factor in preventing gum disease, cavities, or tooth loss. If a mother has a history of poor oral health before becoming pregnant, it is vital to take extra care of the mouth and teeth, focus on nutritional needs, and visit the dentist regularly. These efforts help protect the baby’s teeth during the prenatal phase and after they are welcomed into the world.
A “baby” refers to any child that is 4 years old or younger, including newborns, infants, and toddlers. New parents should educate themselves about the importance of oral hygiene for babies as early as possible. The standing of a baby’s oral health depends on feeding habits, medical history, newborn oral care practices, and behavior during pregnancy.
Infants begin teething between 3 and 9 months of age as primary teeth begin to emerge in the mouth. Children may become fussy and uncomfortable during this period, but teething is a normal stage of life and is typically nothing to worry about.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that an infant should begin visiting a dentist around 1 year of age, within 6 months after the first tooth eruption.
Visiting a pediatric dentist, who specializes in treating only children’s teeth, ensures a child receives the highest quality dental care:
During the first visit, the dentist will check for cavities and tooth decay. Parents often ask for advice on how to care for their infant’s teeth correctly, such as brushing, fluoride use, and cavity prevention.
Early-in-life risk factors (listed above) play a huge part in determining the likelihood of a child developing dental caries as they grow up. Properly brushing an infant’s teeth, using fluoride regularly, and cleaning gums greatly reduces a child’s risk of developing cavities.
Improper infant feeding and neglected oral care promote the growth of cariogenic bacteria. Streptococcus mutans, a cavity-causing bacteria, are the most common. When teeth erupt in an infant’s mouth, who has high levels of cariogenic bacteria, demineralization of teeth (decay) often occurs. Common causes of cavities include:
Preventing tooth decay in babies begins with establishing good habits early on. If babies have poor oral hygiene as newborns, infants, and toddlers, they are more likely to develop dental issues as they reach early childhood. Utilize these tips to prevent tooth decay: