How many teeth does a child have? Count them… 8? 16? 20? Would you believe 52? This sounds amazing, but it’s true. By birth all 20 of the baby (primary) teeth and several of the adult (permanent) teeth are forming. By age 3, almost all of the 32 permanent teeth are well on their way. What’s even more amazing is that there are several steps you can take now, while your child is an infant, which will determine their oral health well into adulthood.

TEETHING

The two lower front teeth are usually the first to arrive at about 6-10 months of age. Teething continues until about 2 1/2 years old, when the second primary molars erupt. During teething, the child’s gums may look a little red and puffy, and they may experience excessive drooling and grouchiness. Other signs of teething may include: loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and a transient low-grade fever. If your baby experiences: a high or prolonged fever, a rash, or vomiting, these are signs that something else may be wrong and you should consult your pediatrician.

To help relieve teething discomfort, you can give your child a cool teething ring or a frozen washcloth to chew on. The cold will help numb the gums and the chewing will help the new teeth cut through. Care must be taken not to allow your child to chew on objects that could break apart and pose a choking hazard. Infant Tylenol and preparations that numb the gums should be used sparingly and only as a last resort.

IMPORTANCE OF BABY TEETH

While it is true the primary teeth will eventually be replaced, they serve very important roles. Like your permanent teeth, your child’s primary teeth are necessary for: proper chewing and eating, speech development, and an attractive appearance. In addition, the primary teeth play an important role in the development of jaw bones and muscles, and help guide the permanent teeth into position. The second primary molars are not usually replaced until 12-14 years and generally must serve for 10 years or more.

ORAL HYGIENE

Cleaning should begin even before the first tooth erupts. After every feeding you should gently clean your infant’s gums with a clean damp gauze or washcloth. This will allow you to check that everything appears normal and creates a healthy oral environment for the first tooth to erupt into. You can continue to clean the first few new primary teeth with gauze or washcloth. Once your fingers are in jeopardy, it’s time to graduate up to a soft, child-size toothbrush. Brushing should be done at least twice daily, and most importantly, before bedtime.

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