Understanding the health risks specific to premature babies will help you be able to administer the proper care for your own “preemie.” It is common for preemie teeth to come in without the protective enamel that are more often subject to decay, a condition known as enamel hypoplasia. It’s also probable that their teeth will erupt from their gums later than usual. And braces are not uncommon for preemies later in life. Here is a closer look at a few problems you can look for in your preemie and some advice about how to deal with them.
Enamel formation. Enamel hypoplasia is four times more likely to occur in preemies than in children carried to full term. It ranges from mild to severe, with some children being prone to cavities, while others require more extensive and continuing dental work to stave it off. Sometimes the effects are not immediately identifiable, and you may have to wait and see how the situation develops. If your child develops enamel hypoplasia, they need to see the dentist on a regular basis and keep up a careful routine of brushing and flossing.
Teething. Preemies don’t receive the same kinds of nutrition in their last weeks of gestation that full term babies do, which has causes many doctors to hypothesize that there is a connection between being born prematurely and the time it takes to begin teething. Usually this time will be delayed, though once again, you may just have to wait and see.
Hard Palate. While being cared for in the NICU (or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), long term intubation may cause a preemie to develop a high groove in their hard palate which can lead to hearing and speech problems as well as displaced teeth positioning.
Discoloration. Preemies who had high bilirubin levels in the NICU may develop a brownish or yellow coloration that only appears on their baby teeth, so don’t bother over-brushing or having them cleaned by a dentist.
Braces and spacing issues. This is a hotly debated issue in the dental world, as many dentists won’t consider the need for braces until after molars have emerged on or around the time a child turns six. Sometimes treatment for preemies with crowded teeth or a hard palate are offered a spacer for the first few years of their lives.
If you are at all concerned about the health of your preemie’s teeth, remember that, the tinier they were, the more prone they are to illnesses and developmental issues. You should search for a pediatric dentist who specializes in the dental hygiene of premature children. You may also find that your baby has an aversion to being touched around the mouth. If this is the case, you can visit a speech therapist who can help you find an easier way of taking your child to the dentist.
It is recommended that most children make their first dentist appointment by the time they turn one. If your child has yet to develop teeth by then, consult your dentist about the appropriate time to begin teeth care.
Sarah Danielson is a contributing writer for 1Dental where you can compare and save on top dental plans like the Careington Care 500 dental plan and many others.