Greetings and welcome to our on-going blog series, Dentistry Through the Ages. In these blog posts, we will cover age-group specific dental needs and concerns. Your life is constantly changing, and we want to equip you with the best information possible to keep your teeth healthy!

Today, we want to take a look at the special dental needs and concerns of toddlers and young children. During this time period, your young one will undergo rapid growth and development, both physically and mentally. At Thousand Oaks Family Dentistry, we want to give you the best tools to keep up with their changing needs!

There are a number of milestones that can help you best gauge your child’s dental development. Typically, the first primary teeth to erupt will be the central lower incisors at around 8 months. These will be followed shortly after by opposing teeth, the upper central incisors at about 10 months. Likewise, the last primary teeth to be shed are the upper canines and second molars, which are lost as late as 12 years.

A chart showing the eruption and shedding ages for primary teeth. 

A chart showing the eruption and shedding ages for primary teeth. 

It becomes apparent that although the primary teeth will all be eventually be shed and replaced, they need to last a long time- from 5 to 10 years depending on the specific tooth. During this period, these teeth will serve as both mechanical tools for chewing and as placeholders for the adult teeth. It is important that primary teeth are lost naturally and not due to facial trauma or decay. If a tooth must be removed prematurely, we recommend placing a Space Maintainer retention device to hold spacing. Without this appliance, the adult teeth can come in crooked or unevenly, requiring extensive orthodontic intervention later in life.

A typical space maintainer on a model. The final appliance is gently cemented to the rearward tooth. 

A typical space maintainer on a model. The final appliance is gently cemented to the rearward tooth. 

Beyond the development of primary teeth and adult teeth, there are a number of ways you can give your young child the best start on their dental health. At 1 year of age, we recommend stopping the use of bottles and pacifiers. Studies show that the prolonged use of these products can cause improper oral development, including an open bite. You can limit pacifier use using the “snip” method, where a small amount of the pacifier base is cut off periodically, limiting your child’s ability to create satisfying suction with the device. Thumb sucking needs to be limited as well, although behavioral interventions required to stop this are usually unsuccessful until the age of 3.

We recommend brushing your child’s teeth as soon as the first teeth begin to erupt. You can brush with water, fluoride-free toothpaste or even xylitol wipes. However, avoid fluoridated toothpaste and supplements until age 2, as the fluoridated water in Southern California will provide enough remineralization power alone. Any extra dosage of the ion can cause a condition called fluorosis, where white spots of “over mineralization” arise on the still-developing adult teeth.

At about three years of age, adjacent teeth in your child’s mouth will begin to touch. At this time, it is crucial to start flossing once a day. Childhood diets are full of tooth decay causing foods and habits- constant snacking, sticky and carbohydrate heavy foods and milk instead of water for beverage. While brushing will manage the risk of decay on most tooth surfaces, only flossing can remove bacteria and food from in-between teeth, where 70% of childhood tooth decay occurs. Additionally, keep in mind that brushing and flossing can be difficult tasks for children. As a rule of thumb, children not possess the motor skills to brush their own teeth until they can tie their own shoes.

We typically recommend children come in for their first dental visit at 1 year of age or when their first tooth comes (around 6-12mos). This visit is less of a traditional exam, and more of a “primer” for future dental visits. We will introduce your child to our various tools and ease them into what can be a very stressful setting. Depending on patient compliance, we will do a quick check of the mouth, followed by a health history review and educational discussion (for parents). All this is conducted in our fun and imaginative children’s room!

Undoubtedly, your child’s specific developmental patterns, needs and concerns will vary from the information in this article. With this in mind, it is imperative that they come in for regular dental examinations and check-ups. Many problems- from tooth decay to some developmental issues, can be corrected easily if caught early on. We hope to see you and your loved ones at our office- to make sure everyone is on the right track for dental success!