You probably already know that your premature baby may face medical issues that result from an early birth and low weight. What you may not know is that your child may experience dental issues as a result of prematurity as well. Because teeth don't begin to show until months after birth, many parents don't make the connection between their child's teeth and their prematurity. Knowing what conditions are linked to premature birth can help you to be prepared ahead of time.
Often, the first teeth erupt considerably later in premature infants than they do in their full-term counterparts. This is normal, and the best thing that you can do is simply wait. Your baby's teeth will erupt eventually.
The problem is that when tooth eruption is delayed, instead of just one or two teeth erupting at a time, several of them will break through at once. This can make for some very painful teething episodes for your child. Be ready with chilled teething rings and children's acetaminophen to help relieve the pain. Don't use the over-the-counter pain relieving gels that contain benzocaine, as these can cause a serious blood condition in children.
Once your child's teeth have grown in, you may notice brown or yellow stains on the surfaces of the teeth that don't come off with brushing. This is common in preemies who spent time in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) because of jaundice, a condition that causes high bilirubin levels.
There isn't a lot that you can do about these stains – professional cleaning by a dentist won't remove the stains either. However, you should still see a dentist to confirm that the tooth stains are simply stains and not signs of a deeper problem. Usually this condition only affects the primary teeth, and your child's permanent teeth won't have the same problem.
One more condition that often effects preemies is "chalky teeth," otherwise known as enamel hypoplasia. This condition causes a chalky appearance in the teeth, weakness in the enamel, sensitivity to heat and cold, and high susceptibility to cavities. It's common in babies born around three months early. The early birth disrupts the prenatal formation of enamel.
There are several ways to treat enamel hypoplasia, including fluoride treatments to help strengthen the teeth and caps or crowns to cover weak spots or repair damage. In any case, a child who is showing symptoms of enamel hypoplasia needs to see a dentist right away to determine a course of treatment.
Children who were born prematurely have the same dental needs as other children, but they may also have a few additional needs. It's a good idea to start visiting your pediatric dentist early to ensure that your child gets the best possible start with their dental health. Click here for more information.