Dental Care For Kids: Q&A

Thanks to everyone who joined me at the American Baby Q&A session today on Facebook!  For those who missed it or anyone who’s looking for information on kids’ dental care, I thought I’d put together a post of the most commonly asked questions, and a few things I didn’t get to mention.  (Note: this post, just like any information on the internet, does not substitute for an exam and regular dental care– see your dentist for any specific concerns.)

When should I schedule my child’s first dental visit?

The official recommendation is by one year of age or the first tooth, whichever comes first.  The purpose of the first visit is to establish a dental home for your child, to educate you (the parent) about proper home care and diet, and to start establishing healthy dental habits and introduce the child to the dental office environment.

When should I start brushing, and what kind of toothbrush should I use?

You should start brushing as soon as the first tooth appears.  (Some parents like to wipe the gums with a clean finger or washcloth even before teeth start coming in, to get the baby used to the parent cleaning their mouth.)  You can use any brand of kid-sized toothbrush.  I like the Oral-B Stages brushes because they are appropriately sized for different ages.  If you choose an electric toothbrush, be aware that the technique is different.  With a manual brush you do the scrubbing motions, angling the bristles toward the gumline.  With an electric brush you hold the brush still for several seconds in one area and then move on to the next.

When should I start using regular toothpaste?

As soon as the first tooth appears!  The “training” (fluoride-free) toothpaste is actually not necessary.  Until your child learns to spit out well (around age 4), you should use a tiny smear the size of a grain of rice, twice a day.  It is assumed that the child will swallow it, but such a tiny amount is not considered to be harmful.

What about flossing?  When do I need to start, and how can I get my child to let me do it?

When the teeth touch each other (no spaces between them), you can start flossing.  Let your child watch you floss first so they know it’s not a bad thing.  You can try the mini-flossers that look like a plastic hook with floss threaded through it, and let your child hold one and play with it before you try any actual flossing.

My baby grinds his teeth– is this harmful, and what can I do about it?

It’s very common for babies to grind when teeth are new– they’ve suddenly got these hard bumps in their mouths and they don’t know what to do with them!  The noise can be alarming, but just ignore it and allow the phase to pass.

How do you know if your baby is teething?  What can I do to help her with the pain?

Signs of teething include fussiness, wakefulness, loss of appetite, drooling, rubbing at the mouth, and even diaper rash and low-grade fever.  To help with teething pain, you can give your baby a frozen damp washcloth, cold teething ring, or cold spoon.  Some moms like Hyland’s teething tablets (which are homeopathic) and Baby Orajel.  If you use the Orajel, just use a tiny amount and apply it only to the affected area with a clean finger, and don’t use it for prolonged periods of time.

My baby is 9 months/12 months/ 14 months and doesn’t have any teeth yet!  Should I be concerned?

The amount of teeth kids have at specific ages varies widely!  Plenty of kids don’t have any teeth by a year old.

What if my baby’s teeth are coming in out of order?  Is this normal?

Just like the time of eruption, the order of eruption can vary from child to child– this is considered to be completely normal.  If a tooth is missing long past the time it should have erupted (i.e. years), it may be impacted or missing, and your dentist can take an x-ray to check.

My child doesn’t want to brush/won’t let me brush!  What can I do?

Definitely try to keep brushing a positive experience at all costs.  In my opinion it’s better for a child to view brushing positively over the long run than to get in two minutes of brushing, twice a day, every single day without fail (although you should always strive for that!).  Try laying your child in your lap and brushing from behind, making brushing a game, giving them their own toothbrush to play with while you get in there with another brush, and letting them see you brush your teeth.  Some kids like electric toothbrushes better because they are like a toy (the SpinBrush by Arm & Hammer is only about $7), so you can try that as well.

How can I help my child not be afraid of an upcoming dental appointment?

You should prepare your child well in advance and talk about the appointment as a positive experience.  Try reading books about the dentist and looking at pictures of kids going to dental appointments.  Have your child brush and “play dentist” on a doll or stuffed animal.  Some pediatric dentists will let a child come in for a quick visit to watch other kids in the chair without the child actually having any work done– that way they can see that it’s not so scary before they actually come in for their own checkup. Modeling is a great way to ease a child’s fears, so if the parent is happy about going for dental care, hopefully the child will be too.

Last few tips and pieces of info: You should be helping your child with brushing until they are old enough to do it well on their own (age 5-6 or so, although this will depend on the child).  Diet plays as big of a role as oral hygiene, so steer clear as much as possible from sugary snacks, juice, and soda.  The frequency of sugar matters more than the actual amount of sugar– sipping a single cup of juice throughout the day is much worse for teeth than having a drink of juice all in one go.  And never put your baby to bed with a bottle, because whatever is in the bottle will sit on the teeth all night long and increases the risk of tooth decay.

For more information on kids’ dental care, see the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s website.  I hope this was helpful, and again, thanks to everyone who stopped by to chat with me today!

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  1. by Erinn

    On February 23, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Ahhh typical dentist…warning us off the sweet stuff. Next you’ll be offering cash for Halloween loot…I’ve still got some Halloween candy stashed somewhere…Wanna give me money? ;)

    Seriously, great job!! Thanks for all the awesome info!!

  2. by Andrea

    On February 23, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    My baby is 9 mos and no matter what I do frequently falls asleep during her last feeding of the night. Should I wake her up to brush her two teeth?

  3. by Julia

    On February 24, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Technically the answer is yes, you should always brush after the last feeding… but I know how hard it is to actually do that when your baby nurses to sleep! I would just do your best for now and if it’s still happening when she’s a year old or so, start waking her to brush.

  4. by Annie

    On February 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    I kissed my baby on the mouth! Did I infect her with cavities?

    The above is for those who are too afraid to ask.

  5. by Jane

    On February 24, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Great to know a pea size fluoride toothpaste won’t be harmful to my child. I’ll try not to have my son hang on to a cup of juice for the most of the day from now on.

    Thank you for these great advice!

  6. by G

    On February 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    I find it interesting that they say to take your child to the dentist by the time they are one or when the first tooth comes in. EVERY dentist I have asked has told me I didn’t need to bring my daughter in until she was about 2 1/2. Seems to me that there is some conflicting info out between the “recommendations” and what the dentists actually want/need to do for a child.

  7. by Janet

    On February 27, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    My dentist also said by 3 years old for the first visit. She also suggested we bring him in with us first and let him watch mama or daddy have their teeth cleaned. This way they aren’t totally freaked out when it’s their turn. My son won’t let me brush his teeth, so I give him his very own tooth brush and he does a pretty good job on his own. This was also suggest by my pediatrician when I explained that it was close to impossible to help him brush his own teeth.

  8. by Jodi

    On February 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    My father is a dentist and he said that my daughter (17 months) doesn’t need to go to the dentist until closer to 3 yrs old. But he did recommend to brush my daughter’s teeth and check the mouth daily to make sure everything looks ok. If anything looks strange then I would need to take her to the dentist. The pediatrician does check her mouth every three months at her check ups as well. I haven’t started using toothpaste yet.I can barely get the toothbrush onto her teeth without a fight anyway. I make sure she doesn’t have milk or food after brushing her teeth before bed – water only.

  9. by jj

    On February 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    I tried to schedule dental appts for my 1-year olds and was told to wait. I have an HMO and I can’t even go to a pediatric dentist unless they go to a regular dentist first. There seems to be a big gap in terms of recommendations and actual practice? I’m in a large urban area too.

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