Written by Tricia Mool:
By the time your child cuts his or her first molars, you've become adept at addressing their teething pain. But molars coming in at this age might feel like a bigger hurdle in your child's oral development. As much as they have a larger surface area, however, there isn't a significant difference in their eruption process compared to other primary teeth.
What Primary Molars Do
Primary molars are normally the last teeth to erupt and the last to fall out, making way for your child's permanent first, second and third molars as described by the American Dental Association (ADA). Your permanent first molars have a unique job: Known as the "six-year molars," per the ADA, they serve as the first "placeholders" in your mouth and set the stage for the shape of your lower jaw as it supports the placement of the rest of your teeth.
Here's how best to care for your child's molars coming in for an easy transition.
Pain During Their Eruption
When your baby first starts to teethe, the surrounding area can become red and swollen. The first front tooth is often the most sensitive, but molars coming in can also be painful for your child. Unlike an incisor, which can cut the gum more easily, the larger and duller surface area of the molars makes the process more uncomfortable for some kids. Pain tolerance is different for every child, but soreness in this area of the gumline can make eating particularly difficult.
Diet Change for New Molars
For this reason, changing your child's diet can help treat the pain. Switch from solid foods to liquids, like a diet that consists of applesauce and yogurt. Frozen fruits, like mashed bananas added to a mesh bag (to prevent choking), can help numb the pain as well. A good rule is to ultimately look for foods that can counter the pressure of the tooth erupting. The thick end of a chilled, uncut carrot, for instance, can be a good antidote for molar eruption pain. Not only is it an easy food to gnaw, but the harder surface – coupled with its cool temperature – can soften the irritation of a parting gum.
Ice water is also a good way to relieve the sensation. If your baby will accept it, fill his or her bottle with cool or icy water to help numb the area. This might be too intense for some kids, but others will welcome it once they feel its desensitizing effects.
Oral Care for Molar Eruption
With the eruption of their molars, children have a complete set of 20 primary teeth, and learning how to brush these teeth is important. Molars may have a larger surface area, but they're harder to reach when cleaning them, too. This can increase the opportunity for plaque to build up and develop early caries.
As these molars appear, use the timing as a marker for where you should be in your child's oral care treatment regimen. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends:
Scheduling a dental visit by the first tooth's eruption or the first birthday, and scheduling a checkup every six months.
Using toothpaste before your child's first tooth erupts.
Brushing your child's teeth daily.
Brushing your child's teeth with a small, soft-bristled brush tailored for children. Colgate® My First® Toothbrush is sized specifically for small kids whose teeth are still developing.
Is It the Same with Permanent Molars?
Of course, an older child who's already getting his or her permanent teeth may experience some familiar soreness. Luckily, ibuprofen, soft foods and cool ice water can help with the discomfort at this stage as well. Just remind your children to properly floss in this hard-to-reach area, and use a tool like a small dental mirror to locate any areas where food might be lodged. Likewise, it's particularly important to schedule an appointment with your child's dentist to ensure permanent molars are erupting correctly alongside regular checkups.
In addition to addressing short-term pain relief, focusing on big-picture oral care will help your child develop healthy molars and habits well into adulthood.