Oral Health in Early Childhood: What You Need to Know

As a parent, ensuring children have a healthy and happy childhood is a top priority. And, when it comes to oral health, it is no exception. Good oral health lays the foundation for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums, and it starts in early childhood. As a member of the Oral Health Coalition of Alabama and with over 14 years of experience working with the Head Start program, I have seen firsthand the importance of oral health in young children. To help parents understand the significance of oral health in early childhood, here are three key things to keep in mind.

The Importance of Baby Teeth

Baby teeth, also known as primary teeth, are the first set of teeth a child will have in their lifetime. These teeth play a critical role in a child’s development, helping with chewing and eating and laying the foundation for speaking and pronunciation. It is essential to take care of a baby’s first teeth, as they are an important building block for their future oral health. Proper dental hygiene and regular visits to the dentist are important steps in ensuring that your child’s baby teeth remain healthy.

Understanding Early Childhood Caries (ECC)

ECC refers to tooth decay in children under the age of six. This type of decay is caused by the frequent consumption of sweetened liquids such as formula, milk, or juice from a bottle or sip cup. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), untreated cavities can cause pain, infections, and lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Children with poor oral health are also more likely to miss school and experience developmental delays. It is important to note that ECC is not caused by the bottle or sip cup, but by the sugar content in the liquids. Breast milk, formula, fruit juices, soft drinks, or any sweetened liquid can contribute to decay. To help prevent ECC, it is important to limit the frequency and  duration of sugary drink consumption, as well as ensuring that your child brushes their teeth regularly and visits the dentist for checkups.

The First Dental Exam

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children who are at risk should have their first dental examination by the age of 12 months. However, access to pediatric dentists for young children can be challenging, so pediatricians may perform an oral screening as part of the well-child exam for children between the ages of 12 months to 3 years. The first dental exam is an important step in ensuring that your child’s oral health is on track and any potential issues are addressed early on.

In conclusion, oral health in early childhood is critical for a child’s overall health and development. By understanding the importance of baby teeth, the dangers of ECC, and the importance of a child’s first dental exam, parents can help ensure their child has a healthy and bright smile for years to come. Regular dental checkups and proper dental hygiene can go a long way in promoting good oral health in your child.