Children have special dental needs that differ from adults. Furthermore, throughout their development, children have different dental needs as infants, toddlers, elementary and high-school aged children.Most children see a general dentist; however, some children see specialist called paedodontists (or pedodontists), who are specially trained only to work with children.
The Canadian Dental Association recommends bringing your baby to see the dentist for the first time within six months of the first tooth erupting or by one year of age, whichever is sooner.
At this visit, the dentist can discuss with you the best way to brush the baby’s teeth and check that the teeth are coming in as expected. The dentist can also answer any questions you might have about breast or bottle feeding before bed, as these can lead to higher risk of cavities if proper teeth cleaning is not done before the child goes to sleep. Young baby teeth have softer enamel, so it is essential to maintain them well from the beginning.
Once the baby becomes a toddler, visits to the dentist can be helpful in learning some specific techniques in order to aid brushing, which could be a challenge with your toddler who is trying to be more independent. Your dentist can teach you the knee-to-knee technique in order to help with brushing. In addition, the dentist can check if your current brushing routine is sufficient, and if all of the teeth are appearing as expected. The dentist will start to develop a relationship with your child and your child will learn the importance of regular dental visits to promote healthy teeth for their whole life. The dentist may also discuss use of baby bottles and discuss the benefits of using a sippy cup as soon as your child is able in order to maintain the teeth, as biting the baby bottle can be bad for the baby teeth. Your dentist may also educate you regarding use of soothers or thumb-sucking, which should be stopped around the age of 2-3, before it begins to affect the structure of the mouth arch and the arrangement of the teeth inside the mouth. At this stage, parents often assume that oral hygiene for the baby teeth is less important than when it comes to maintaining adult teeth. However, baby teeth are very important in maintaining the spacing for the future permanent teeth, and loss or decay of a baby tooth can disrupt the placement of teeth in the mouth. In fact, poor hygiene of the baby teeth can even make it necessary to have orthodontic work done as a teenager. Thus, good oral hygiene is essential for both baby teeth and adult teeth.
As elementary school aged children, it is important for your child to get used to going to see the dentist regularly, and for the dentist and oral hygienist to teach them how to properly floss and brush their own teeth, as it will no longer be the job of the parent any longer. Early screening for the need for orthodontics is usually done around elementary school age.
By the time your child is a young adult in high school, they may be receiving any orthodontic treatment or braces that may be required. Braces can be particularly difficult to clean, so it is even more important that the child continues to come in for regular oral hygiene appointments. Even if the child does not need orthodontic treatment, they should get in the habit of visiting the dentist regularly so that he or she establishes this habit for life, and so that all of the permanent teeth are well taken care of from the beginning.