Oral Habits

Pediatric Dentistry

Infant dental care at Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics of Salem in Salem, NH

Infant Dental Care

Several types of bacteria that live on your teeth cause tooth decay. When you consume sugar, the bacteria consume the sugar and produce acids that dissolve the teeth and cause decay. Early childhood tooth decay (known as Baby Bottle Decay) is often caused when a child goes to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice. The sugar in formula, milk, or juice stays in contact with the teeth for a long time during the night which can cause the teeth to decay quickly.

Some Tips To Avoid Early Childhood Tooth Decay

  • Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle of milk or juice, only use water.
  • Avoid letting your child walk around using a bottle or sippy cup with juice, limit it to meal or snack time.
  • Start to teach your child to drink from a cup early.
  • Don’t dip your child’s pacifier in honey or sugar.
  • Start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as they come in. Use a soft age-appropriate toothbrush or cloth.
  • Use toothpaste with fluoride! For children under 2 years use the size of a “grain of rice” and for children that can reliably “spit out” use the size of a “pea” twice daily.
  • Remember that children are not able to fully brush their teeth without your assistance until they are 7-8 years old.

Your Child’s First Dentist Visit

It’s recommended that you bring your baby in for a visit within six months of the first tooth’s eruption – usually around his or her first birthday. Since decay can occur in even the smallest of teeth, the earlier your baby visits us, the more likely he or she is to avoid problems. We’ll look for any signs of early problems with your baby’s oral heath and review the best way to care for your little one’s teeth. Remember that preparing for each dental visit with a positive attitude goes a long way toward making your child comfortable with regular checkups.

Setting the Example

Kids mimic adults – it is part of their learning process. Brush and floss daily while your child is watching and he or she will learn the importance of good habits at an early age. As soon as your child shows interest, offer a toothbrush of his or her own and encourage your toddler to “brush” with you. (You’ll find toothbrushes with chunky, short handles that are easy to grip.)

Most children don’t have the dexterity necessary to thoroughly clean their teeth until they’re about seven or eight, so you should always brush their teeth again afterward. Try different tactics to make brushing fun: flavored toothpaste, a toothbrush with a favorite character on it, or singing songs about brushing. The primary goal is to instill healthy oral habits at an early age to set your child up for a lifetime of healthy, cavity-free teeth!

Teething and Grinding

Teething usually occurs from six months old until all the baby teeth come in around age 2. Many children enjoy teething rings or spoons, especially when they are chilled, or with a damp washcloth. Some relief can come from rubbing the baby’s gums with a clean finger.

Grinding is extremely common in children and often disconcerting for parents. Do not be alarmed if you hear your child grind or if you notice some wear on their baby teeth. Grinding usually will resolve on its own when permanent (adult) teeth start coming in. If it does continue into adulthood a night guard may be recommended to protect the permanent teeth from wear.

Finger Habits

Finger habits usually occur in infants. For some infants, thumb or finger-sucking habits start in the womb. 

The Risks Posed by Thumb-Sucking

The American Dental Association recommends that children stop sucking their thumbs by age four at the very latest. Failure to break the habit by age four can lead to poor oral health and significant orthodontic issues. They may develop crooked teeth, crossbites, a malformed roof of their mouth, and severe problems that affect jaw development resulting in overbites and anterior open bites. The severity of the problems depends upon the frequency, duration, intensity, and position of the finger in the child’s mouth. This can also affect the position of the upper and lower jaw resulting in speech impediments.

Breaking The Habit

Suggestions to break the habit of thumb sucking:

  • Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb-sucking, give praise when he or she doesn’t.
  • Put a band-aid on your child’s thumb or a sock over the hand at night or when watching TV. Let your little one know that this is not a punishment, but rather a way to help them remember to avoid sucking.
  • Start a progress chart and let your child put a sticker up every day that he or she doesn’t suck. If your child makes it through a week without sucking, reward them with a predetermined prize. When the whole month is full, reward your child again with something great (a toy or a new video game); by then the habit should be over. Making your child an active participant in his or her treatment will increase the willingness to break the habit.
  • If you notice your child sucking when he or she is anxious, work on alleviating the anxiety rather than focusing on the thumb sucking.
  • Take note of the times your child tends to suck (long car rides, while watching TV and movies) and create diversions during these occasions.
  • Explain clearly what might happen to the teeth if he or she keeps thumb-sucking. 
  • In some cases, a blanket or stuffed animal goes hand in hand with the habit. It may require eliminating both habits at the same time to be successful.