Pediatric dentistry revolves around the oral health of children from infancy to the teen years. Pediatric dentists receive extensive training to handle children's unique developmental, medical, behavioral, and emotional needs. After your child's birth, you should fall into the routine of taking them to a pediatric dentist, and this should continue up to their teen years. However, most parents are confused about when and how often they should take their children to a dentist. It is advisable to take your child to the dentist from their first birthday or six months after their first teeth sprout. After the first dental appointment, your child should visit the dentist every six months. However, you can visit a dentist sooner if your child has a dental issue. If you are seeking the best pediatric dentist in Hawthorne, CA, you can count on Ganji Dental.

Why a Pediatric Dentist is Important

Most parents often wonder why they can't take their children to a regular dentist, and they have to take them to a pediatric dentist instead. Children's bodies are different from those of adults. Just as you do not take your child to a regular doctor, you should not take them to a regular dentist. Pediatric dentists understand the unique needs of children, including children with special needs.

You might be wondering why you should take your child to a dentist, yet their teeth will fall out anyway. Even if a child will eventually lose their primary teeth and develop a new set of teeth, their initial teeth' health is important and has an impact on their long-term oral health. If the baby's teeth are infected, the bacteria may penetrate the tooth and into the bone leading to severe dental infections. The prevalence of bacteria in baby teeth may hinder proper enamel formation in adult teeth, causing permanent damage to the baby's teeth.

First Visit to the Dentist

It is advisable to take your child to a pediatric dentist by the time they celebrate their first birthday or by six months after their teeth show. Most parents may feel like it is too early to take a child to the dentist at one year. However, if you wait for when your child is three years, the damage will have already occurred mainly due to bottle tooth decay or dental cavities. 

You should not expect much during your child's first visit to the pediatric dentist. In most cases, the first dental visit is brief and involves minimal dental treatment. This visit allows your child to meet and interact with the pediatric dentist in a friendly manner. The dentist may request you to sit on the dental chair and hold your child. The dentist may also request to attend to the child alone as you wait at the reception.  This will help to build a relationship between the dentist and the child.

During the initial dental visit, the dentist will examine all your child's teeth. They will look out for tooth decay signs and any potential problems with the child's jaw, gums, and oral tissues. The pediatric dentist will also examine the child's bite. If needed, the dentist will also clean the child's teeth and identify a fluoride need. Pediatric dentists may also take time to educate parents on oral health care in children and answer any questions that the parents may have. 

Some of the topics a pediatric dentist may address during the first dental visit include fluoride needs in children, the general oral hygiene practices that will boost your child's teeth' health. Dentists may also highlight oral habits like tongue thrusting, thumb sucking, and lip sucking.

Other issues that the dentist may look into include proper nutrition and teething. Your dentist will also schedule future dental appointments. Most pediatric dentists will request to see your child every six months because this will build the child's comfort and confidence to visit the dentist. With regular dental visits, the dentist can monitor the child's teeth and treat any emerging problems.

By the time your child is between 6 and 12 years, the pediatric dentist will mainly focus on preventing dental issues. During this period, your child's baby teeth will be giving way to permanent teeth. A pediatric dentist might recommend a plastic resin to bond the teeth's chewing surface when the child is between 7 and 9 years. The dentist is more likely to focus on the child's molars that are prone to cavities. The plastic resins play an important role in preventing the bacteria from penetrating the grooves of a child's teeth.

A pediatric dentist may recommend an orthodontic evaluation when a child is around seven years. Your child does not have to wait until their teenage years to acquire braces. It will help if a dentist identifies skeletal causes of crooked teeth when a child is still young. By identifying orthodontic problems early, the pediatric dentist will address the issues to ensure that a child will have a beautiful smile later on.

However, it is important to note that daily oral health is the main contributor to a child's smile. Parents should ensure that their children follow the simple basics like flossing daily and brushing twice a day. Children should also undergo regular dental checkups to help identify dental problems early.  

Common Oral Health Problems in Children

Several factors impact the dental health of kids. These factors include thumb sucking, tooth decay, tongue thrusting, lip sucking, and losing teeth while too young. Even if new teeth will eventually replace your baby's teeth, it is crucial to keep the baby's teeth healthy. Maintaining proper oral health is crucial to the overall baby's health. 

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

The other names for this form of tooth decay are nursing caries, early childhood dental caries. This decay occurs due to the constant contact of the baby's teeth with sugary drinks like milk, fruit juice, formula, sugary water, or other sweetened drink. Breastfed babies may be a risk of tooth decay or damage in children often asleep with breast milk in the mouth. The bacteria present in the baby's mouth thrive on the sugar, causing tooth damage and decay.

If ignored, decayed teeth in babies may lead to discomfort, making it hard for a child to eat or swallow food. The health of baby teeth also has an impact on permanent teeth. If initial teeth are destroyed or damaged, they will harm the development of the adult teeth. Severely decayed initial baby teeth may lead to dental abscess with the likelihood of spreading the infection to another part of the body.  

Which precautions should a parent take to prevent nursing caries or nursing tooth decay?

  • You should comfort or calm the baby with a pacifier or plain water instead of offering sugary drinks during the day.
  • You should avoid dipping the baby's pacifier in honey, sugar, or any sweetened liquid.
  • Avoid putting your child to sleep with a feeding bottle containing sweetened drinks like milk or fruit juice, which raises the likelihood of tooth decay. Instead, you should offer the baby a pacifier or water. Avoid giving a baby a lot of water because this might be harmful.
  • If you nurse your baby at night, you should ensure that your breast does not remain in the baby's mouth when they fall asleep. Avoid adding sweeteners to your baby's food.
  • After every feeding, ensure that you use gauze or wet gauze to clean your baby's teeth or gums. This will help remove food particles, and sugar gathers on the gum and teeth, enhancing plaque formation.
  • From their first birthday, encourage your child to use a cup instead of a baby bottle. Drinking from a cup may lower the teeth' encounter with sugars though the baby may still face a slight risk of tooth decay.
  • You should ask the pediatric dentist regarding your baby's fluoride requirements. If the water you drink has no fluoride, you may consider seeking fluoride treatments or fluoride supplements.

Thumb Sucking

Certain dental issues in children may occur due to thumb sucking. It is normal for small children to suck their fingers, pacifiers, fingers, or toys. Children derive a feeling of security and comfort from sucking objects. However, dental problems could result if the habit goes beyond five years when a child develops permanent teeth. The dental problems will vary based on the intensity, duration, and frequency of thumb sucking. Thumb sucking could push the teeth outward and lead to an overbite. A child may have an issue pronouncing words correctly if they have misaligned teeth.

Thumb sucking may also cause misalignment of their upper and lower jaws.  The pediatric dentist may recommend several tactics to help deter thumb sucking in a child:

  • A child will only deter thumb sucking when they decide to stop. The pediatric dentist may advise parents to encourage their children towards this goal.
  • Usually, thumb-sucking results due to security issues, and parents should avoid using negative reinforcement like nagging, scolding, and punishments. These negative reinforcements will only make a child defensive and push them deeper into the habit.
  • Give rewards or praise for avoiding the thumb sucking habit. Younger children require more praises and rewards for stopping the habit. You should slowly increase the period required without thumb-sucking for the child to win a reward.
  • You may consider covering the child's thumb using a band to remind the child to avoid thumb-sucking whenever the urge develops.
  • When a child sleeps, remove the thumb from their mouth.
  • To help an older child overcome thumb sucking, you should identify the underlying cause of the habit. Determine whether your kid is facing any form of stress, then try to reverse the situation. When you eliminate the underlying cause, a child will find it easier to overcome the thumb sucking habit.
  • If you try every tactic, but your child does not stop sucking the thumb, you can use other mechanisms. The pediatric dentist may recommend several dental appliances that will make hand sucking less pleasurable or harder.

Lip Sucking

Your child could have a lip sucking habit if they continuously hold their lower lip below their front teeth. A child may combine lip sucking with sucking their thumb. Lip sucking may lead to an overbite and other dental problems similar to those resulting from tongue thrusting and thumb sucking. You can help your child overcome lip sucking by following the same tips for deterring thumb sucking.

Tongue Thrusting

Often, children engage in tongue thrusting while trying to seal their mouth to swallow. This habit entails thrusting the upper part of their tongue against their lips. Tongue thrusting has the same effect as thumb sucking because it exerts pressure on their front teeth, misaligning the teeth. This habit may make the teeth protrude and create an overbite. In some instances, tongue thrusting may interfere with speech development. A pediatric dentist will help identify tongue-thrusting signs and recommend the best remedies. 

Early Tooth Loss

Children may face an early tooth loss due to injury, tooth decay, and lack of ample jaw space. If a child loses their baby teeth before the adult teeth develop, the neighboring teeth may shift or tip. This means that the permanent teeth will not have ample space to help them thrive. This could lead to the titling of the permanent teeth. Misaligned or crooked teeth may cause a wide range of dental problems, which might interfere with chewing. People with crooked and misaligned teeth often experience temporomandibular joint issues.

A pediatric dentist might advise you to use a space maintainer if your child loses their teeth prematurely. A space maintainer is a metal or plastic device that keeps open the space resulting from tooth loss. Once the adult teeth start to erupt, the dentist will remove the space maintainers.

Difference Between a Pediatric Dentist and a Regular Dentist

Why do medics emphasize taking a child to a pediatric dentist and not a regular dentist? Is there a difference between a pediatric dentist and a regular dentist?  A pediatric dentist undergoes an extra two years of training beyond the regular dentist. The additional training focuses on handling a child's developing teeth, physical growth and development, child behavior, and other special needs of children's dentistry. 

Even if a regular dentist can attend to your child, a pediatric dentist seeks to offer pediatric dental care. The pediatric dental staff and office décor all aim towards providing the best care for your child. You should particularly consider seeking pediatric dental care if your child has special needs. A pediatric dentist would be in a better position to understand the child than a regular dentist. The dentist will give your recommendations on how to handle your child.

A pediatric dentist understands important issues, including when a child should have their first dental X-ray. If a child is at a higher risk of dental problems, dentists may recommend a dental x-ray at an early age. For instance, a dentist may recommend an x-ray earlier if a child has a cleft lip palate or is prone to nursing caries. 

Normally, most children have their first X-ray between the ages of 5 and 6 years. As the children start developing their permanent teeth at the age of six years, x-rays play an important role in enabling dentists to see how adult teeth are developing in the jaw. Pediatric dentists can identify bite problems early enough and identify if a child's teeth are clean and healthy. 

Preparing Your Child for a Visit to a Dentist

To ensure that your child responds positively to the visit to a dentist, you should make the dental visit sound exciting and something to look forward to. Present the visit to the dentist as a sign that your child is growing up. You can explain in a language that the child will understand that the dentist will clean and examine their teeth. This will help a child understand the situation and know that the pediatric dentist is not an enemy but a friend. Avoid terms that might make the child fear visiting a dentist. Avoid using phrases like the dentist will drill your teeth or pull your teeth out. Instead, reassure the child, and the dentist and the dental staff will be welcoming and friendly.

At times, your child may require immediate dental treatment leaving you no time to prepare them for the dental visit. If you realize that your child cannot eat or sleep due to dental pain, it is time to seek immediate dental treatment. Pediatric dentists accommodate emergency visits for children who may require dental treatment right away.

Protecting Your Child's Teeth

Visiting a pediatric dentist is not enough to ensure the health of your child's teeth. A parent has a major role to play in enhancing the oral health of their children.  Parents should be careful about the foods they offer their children. Avoid giving your child sweetened drinks like juices. Most of these juices contain high sugar content and are not nutritious. Instead, you should feed a child with healthier drinks like milk and water.

Instead of giving sugary and processed snacks to your child, focus on fresh fruits, milk, vegetables, yogurt, cheese. You should avoid peeling certain fruits, especially apples. Most of the nutrients lie in the edible peels. 

Your child requires a certain amount of fluoride to maintain the health of their teeth. Most of the fluoride a child needs is present in drinking water. Very high levels of fluoride may lead to fluorosis characterized by discoloration of the teeth. If your drinking water has low fluoride levels, you may require fluoride supplements. If you stay in an area where water is not fluoridated, your pediatric dentist can recommend some fluoride supplements. You can buy a water testing kit to measure the level of fluoride in your drinking water.

When is your child ready to use toothpaste? Your child can start using toothpaste as long as they are old enough to spit the toothpaste, usually around the age of three years. A child should have enough control to spit out the toothpaste. If your child is old enough to brush, ensure that they brush their teeth after breakfast and not before. This helps to ensure that the child will start their day with a clean mouth. When your children brush their teeth at night before bedtime, ensure that you do not give them anything to eat or drink except water. 

Weaning a Child from Pacifiers

When should you wean your child from using a pacifier or from thumb sucking? Prolonged thumb sucking or pacifier use could lead to a crossbite and cause protruding teeth. You should wean your child from this habit by the time they are 2.5 years and not later than three years. If any damage occurs to their bite by this time, it is easy for the pediatric dentist to reverse the damage without much difficulty. However, if a child grows older and does not stop this habit, they might require braces to correct their bite.

When a Child is Nervous or Afraid of Dental Treatment

No matter how much you prepare your child for a dental visit, some children may still be afraid of the dental visit. The good thing is that pediatric dentists understand that most children are not comfortable visiting the dentist, and they strive to make the experience positive. Pediatric dentists go to the extent of allowing parents to sit with their children to support them.

Pediatric dentists may also help anxious young children cope with dental treatment using medicines or laughing gas to calm them. If a child requires an operation, pediatric anesthesia doctors work hand-in-hand with the pediatric dentists. 

Insurance Coverage in Pediatric Dentistry

Just like in regular dentistry, insurance coverage is also available in pediatric dentistry. You should find out in advance the insurance plans your pediatric dentist participates in before presenting your child. 

Find a Pediatric Dentist Near Me

Children begin to develop their baby teeth at around six months of their lives. By the age of six or seven years, they begin to lose their first set of teeth to pave the way for permanent teeth. Without proper dental care, children are prone to oral cavities, causing pain and other complications. To ensure the best oral health for your child, you should take your child to a pediatric dentist for regular checkups. Ganji Dental provides the best pediatric dental services in Hawthorne, CA. Contact us at 310-643-8045 and speak to our team today.