Early Dental Care


Pediatric Dentist, Gig Harbor, WA, Lisa A. Block, DMD, MS

Generally a child’s first tooth erupts around the age of 6 to 12 months. Sometimes the gums are tender and the baby is irritable which can last for several months. Using a clean finger or a cold washcloth to rub the gums gently will give some relief and soothe the child. Cold teething rings are helpful, but stay away from teething biscuits as they have added sugar and are not so good for the baby’s teeth.

Monitor your baby’s teeth for signs of dark spots or decay often called baby bottle decay. Check the teeth every week or two, particularly on the inside surfaces of the teeth where the tongue is in contact with the teeth. Watch for spots (either whiter than the tooth, darker spots or lines).  When put to sleep, babies should have bottles with water only as other liquids – whether it is milk or juice – contain sugars which can harm the teeth if left to coat the teeth while sleeping.  The sugar in the juices and milk combine with bacteria and form acids which attack the tooth enamel. During the day when the child is awake, saliva helps carries away the liquid in the mouth. While the child sleeps, there is a decrease in saliva so the liquids stay around the baby’s teeth for longer periods which cover them in harmful acids.

Infant’s New Teeth

The baby teeth (primary teeth) have an important place in dental development. Children need those baby teeth to chew food properly and to speak.  Baby teeth are critical for jaw development and for guiding permanent teeth (also called secondary teeth) into correct placement when they start to replace the primary teeth when the child is around 6.

Primary teeth help guide permanent teeth into place, so babies who are missing primary teeth or who lose their primary teeth too early may need a space maintainer which is e used to hold space open for erupting teeth.  Caring for your child’s baby teeth plays an important role in how your child treats the permanent or primary teeth. Regular care and dental checkups are critical to maintaining a healthy mouth.

The First Dental Visit

A child should have the first dental visit around the first birthday or soon after the first tooth erupts, which ever happens sooner. A very important part of that first dental office visit is getting to know the dentist and becoming comfortable with the dental staff. A pleasant, comfortable and happy first visit builds a strong relationship and trust.  It sets the foundation for future dental visits and will help put your child at ease.

Why Primary Teeth Are Important

Primary or baby teeth are extremely important as strong, healthy teeth make it possible for a child to eat well and to develop proper pronunciation and good speech habits. Healthy baby  teeth will guide the eruption of the adult or secondary teeth as well.

Good Diet and Healthy Teeth

It is important to have a healthy diet which helps teeth and bones develop properly.  It is good to have a variety of nutritious foods which will also help in the growth of strong teeth while helping to avoid decay and cavities. Many snacks can cause cavities in children, so children it is recommended that they eat healthy snacks like low-fat (low sugar) yogurts, cheeses, and vegetables which will help promote strong teeth.

Infant Tooth Eruption

A baby’s teeth start forming before birth. Around the age of 4 months, the primary or  teeth erupt and break through the gums—the bottom two teeth called the incisors come first, followed by the upper teeth. The rest of  the 20 baby teeth generally are in place by the age of 3.

The permanent teeth begin erupting when the child is around school age or 6 years old, the first molars coming in followed by the lower central incisors. Tooth eruption continues until around age 21. Adults have 32 secondary (permanent) teeth which includes the 4 third molars (commonly known as the wisdom teeth).

Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Tooth decay in babies can be kept to a minimum by never allowing a baby to go to sleep with milk in the mouth whether it is from a bottle or breast milk.   If your child needs  a bottle to help fall asleep it should be  water-filled bottle or a pacifier, never a bottle with milk or juice. Dr. Block’s office is dedicated to keeping your babies and children deay free. If you notice signs of decay or spots on the teeth or gums, let us know right away.