Common Questions about Oral Care and Dentistry for Children
As a dentist who likes to see patients of all ages, I am often asked about oral health and dental care for kids. As a parent of two young kids myself, I love to answer these questions and to help parents and kids achieve ideal dental health. Below, I am going to list some of the most common questions that I get along with their answers. I hope you find this list helpful. If you have other questions you’d like to know or if you have a question about a specific issue with your child, please feel free to contact me at the office. I’d be happy to help in any way I can.
How old should my child be for their first visit to the dentist?
We recommend that a child see the dentist shortly after their first tooth comes in or at least by the end of the first year of their life – whichever is first. This visit is a very casual visit. At our office, the child typically lays in their parent’s lap while the dentist does a quick exam to check for healthy growth and development and for any problems that the child may be having with their mouth. This also helps the child begin to feel comfortable in the dental office when they start early and establish a routine. One of the other benefits of this visit is that I can discuss with the parents how we recommend they care for their child’s teeth and what to expect as they continue to grow and get more teeth. Cavities and other dental problems can and do occur in babies if proper care is not taken, and it can be a very serious problem.
How should I brush/clean my child’s teeth?
Parents of infants should use a soft, wet cloth to clean their infant’s mouths after feeding. Once the first tooth comes in, parents should begin using a soft toothbrush twice a day - after breakfast and before bed. Kids should not eat or drink anything except water after having their teeth brushed at night.
For kids younger than 3, you should apply a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice on the toothbrush. This will help strengthen their teeth and prevent cavities. It can be challenging to brush the teeth of infants and toddlers because they often don’t cooperate or stay still. We encourage parents to start early and establish a routine. It is also helpful to be creative. Try to make brushing fun by singing silly songs, making funny faces, or even tickling them.
From age 3-6, you can use a pea-sized amount. Remember that young kids don’t have the skills to efficiently and thoroughly brush their own teeth. A good rule of thumb is that kids can probably brush their own teeth if they can also tie their own shoes. Before then, it is best for parents to help or at least supervise.
All kids should also have their teeth flossed once a day. If you find this difficult to do, there are lots of flossing aids available in the dental aisle of drug stores that should make it much easier.
What should I do if my child breaks or loses a tooth?
If your child has an accident and breaks or loses all or part of any tooth that wasn’t already loose, try to find and save any pieces you can find. Store what you found in a small Ziploc bag or container and cover it with milk or water. Call your dentist immediately to see what should be done next. As a service to my patients, I always make sure I or someone on staff can be reached when we are closed to help out in situations like this.
Does my child need to see a pediatric dentist?
In most cases the answer is no. I love to see kids at my office, and many other general dentists do as well. All dentists are given extensive training in children’s dental needs and treatment.
Pediatric dentists receive additional training after dental school with a focus on kids who have special needs – be they physical, behavioral, or developmental. They also receive training to treat kids with more severe dental problems than most or who require sedation in order to get their dental work completed.
The important thing is that children regularly receive dental care from either a general dentist or a pediatric dentist. Many of the families in our practice find it very convenient for the parents to have appointments at the same time and place as their kids.
Are baby teeth important? They’re just going to lose them right?
Yes, baby teeth are important. Kids need their baby teeth to chew and speak effectively as well as to smile. Baby teeth can and do get painful and infected just like permanent teeth so it is definitely important to take care of them. Furthermore, baby teeth hold space in the jaw for the permanent teeth. If a child loses a baby tooth early due to dental problems, it will often cause drifting of the other remaining baby or permanent teeth. In this case, there won’t be enough room for all of the permanent teeth to grow in the correct spot. This can cause crooked or severely misaligned teeth.
Why does my child have spaces between their teeth? Do they need braces?
Spacing between baby teeth is a very normal. In fact, it is a good thing. Spacing between baby teeth usually prevents decay from forming on the side walls of the teeth. Also, permanent teeth are larger than baby teeth. Young children with spacing between their teeth are less likely to have a crowding issue when their permanent teeth come in. In most cases, braces aren’t recommended until the majority of the permanent teeth have grown in.
Why does my child grind their teeth at night? It’s loud and their teeth are getting so worn down
This is actually very common in young kids. There is no scientific consensus on why kids grind their teeth. It can be alarming to parents because baby teeth have thinner enamel and tend to wear down quickly in kids who grind their teeth. Fortunately, teeth grinding and wear is rarely a problem for kids and most of them outgrow it. You definitely want to give your dentist a call if your child states that they are having tooth or facial pain associated with the grinding.