Oral Care For Toddlers

Thumb, Finger and Pacifier Habits

Many babies and toddlers will suck on their thumbs or fingers from a few months old to approximately age three. This instinct is present and natural from birth onward. Toddlers engage in this behavior to comfort themselves and many times, ultrasounds of the womb before birth will show a baby sucking on his or her thumb. The urge to suck is also a part of the baby's reflex to nurse. Engaging in thumb or finger sucking, while it may be normal, can become problematic if it continues past two to four years of age. Affecting the dental health of a very young child, sucking the finger or thumb can cause teeth to not grow in properly or tip towards the upper lip. For a toddler who has a very prominent and severe case of sucking, the habit can affect the growth of the jaw and teeth as well as cause a dental bite issue. Dental problems happen because a thumb, finger or pacifier places pressure on the upper front teeth. Pressure on the roof of the mouth could possibly cause an overbite. Often any oral changes caused by a toddler will self-correct, but it is better to err on the side of caution.

For parents who are concerned about the compromise of their child's dental health, a dentist will be able to determine if a toddler is at any risk for complication. A dentist can determine if the toddler's teeth are erupting properly while taking into account the child's sucking habits. Since a child normally stops the behavior on his or her own, a parent need not worry unless the child continues after the age of three. Doctors recommend behavioral techniques such as wrapping a material around the child's thumb, involving reward for discontinuation of a pacifier and reminding the child of becoming a "big girl" or "boy". Dentists can also fabricate an appliance for the child to put in his or her mouth to prevent the child from sucking on an object.

When Do Baby Teeth Erupt

Baby teeth are essentially a temporary set of teeth that a child has until his or her permanent teeth grow into place. Initial teeth formation begins in the womb or the embryonic stage. About 20 non-permanent baby teeth are a part of a baby's mouth by his or her birth and are lost throughout childhood until adulthood begins. Baby teeth are forced out of the gums as the permanent teeth are readying for their replacement. At about six months, the lower teeth in the middle of a baby's mouth will erupt or move through the bone into the visible gum line. This progression is called teething. After one year, the lower molars will emerge followed by the upper molars. The rest of the teeth follow in sequence and are finished erupting by about 36 months. The permanent teeth will then push through to where the baby teeth were once situated and re-absorb the root tissues so that they can anchor themselves into the mouth. Baby girls also go through the process earlier than boys.

Baby teeth serve an important purpose in dental development. The temporary teeth act as a place holder for permanent teeth as well as preventing disease to develop in the sockets until permanent teeth erupt. They aid in helping the baby intake proper nutrition. The baby teeth also fill out and hold the position of the face and mouth giving a normal appearance. Finally, they aid in proper speech development.

When Do Permanent Teeth Erupt

From approximately age six to age thirteen, permanent teeth erupt through the gums and into the space that the baby teeth once filled. The bone structure of the jaw begins to change and there is room for 32 permanent teeth. During the beginning stages, a child's mouth will have a mix of baby and permanent teeth and later on, the final permanent teeth will be formed with exception to the wisdom teeth. The molars typically form first and the wisdom teeth which may range anywhere from zero to four, will appear between ages 17 and 21.

Since the baby teeth are only temporary, their positioning is affected by several factors: the outward pressure of the tongue, the balance of the cheeks and lips and the biting habits of the baby. Also, thumb, finger or pacifier sucking will affect the progress. It is important for parents to curb their children's oral tendencies as the position of baby teeth then affect the same of the permanent teeth.

If the permanent teeth grow in crooked, crowded or with too much space causing gaps, an orthodontist can be consulted. Whether employing the use of a retainer, braces or another orthodontic method, there are correction and preventative methods available.

When Your Baby is Teething

The teething stage of a child's development is when the baby teeth begin to erupt through the gum line. This happens for ten teeth on the lower gums and ten on the upper. Because the teeth are essentially cutting through the gum to the surface, it can be a painful experience for the child. Some children may experience no traumatic symptoms while other can be in agony. About three to five days before the eruption of a tooth, the gums will become sore and swollen. Generally the pain disappears as the new tooth emerges, but the pain can cause a child insomnia, crankiness, mood changes, excessive drooling and even a fever. The baby may also want to bite on a hard surface to relieve the pressure. There also may be a small amount of blood visible where the tooth is coming to the surface. Some babies instinctively pull on their ears as the pain throbs throughout the head and body. Parents should be on the lookout for these symptoms to determine if their baby is teething and needs assistance.

Some ways to comfort a teething baby include:

  • Massaging the baby's gums
  • Allow him or her to temporarily use a certain type of pacifier
  • Use a teething ring
  • A mild gel pain killer recommended by a doctor can be placed on the gums
  • A cold washcloth in short increments of time may reduce the pain

Teething is a process of up to a year that causes some children a lot of pain. A children's dentist or a pediatrician should be consulted to teach parents the proper way of dealing with teething.