When should I take my baby to the dentist? Is flossing really necessary? Find these answers and learn more about your child's dental hygiene habits.

Boy Brushing Teeth Wearing Towel
Credit: Ulza/Shutterstock

Have questions about your child's dental hygiene? We spoke with Jade Miller, D.M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, to answer your frequently asked questions.

When should I take my baby to the dentist?

Kids who go to the dentist for the first time at age 3 or 4 tend to require more dental procedures than those who come earlier, says Dr. Miller. Bring your baby to the dentist by her first birthday or within six months of getting her first tooth. During this appointment, she’ll probably remain in your lap while the dentist looks in her mouth and checks the health of her teeth (or tooth!), gums, and tongue. You can use this visit to learn how to best care for your child’s teeth, and ask questions including ones about pacifiers or thumb-sucking.

Why do I need to care for my baby’s teeth if they’ll just fall out anyway?

The health of your baby’s first teeth impacts the development of his permanent chompers. If you don’t treat a cavity in a baby tooth, bacteria produced by decay can pass to the permanent tooth under the gums.

When should children brush their teeth without help?

Your child will be ready to go solo by around age 9. But if he can tie his shoes or write in cursive at a younger age than that, he’s also ready to brush his teeth himself, says Dr. Miller. Even then, though, you should monitor your child’s brushing for at least another year and his flossing for a couple more to ensure he’s using proper technique.

Do I really need to floss my toddler’s tiny teeth?

If your child has a gap in between two teeth, a thorough brushing will suffice. But any two teeth that touch require flossing to remove those stubborn pieces of food or plaque a toothbrush can’t reach. To make the once-daily habit easier on you, sit in a chair and have your child sit on the floor in front of you facing away from you, with her head in your lap.

Try a made-for-kids flossing tool, like GumChucks, that resemble mini nunchucks and come with two handles joined by a disposable dental-floss strand. Once your child is around age 5, have her try flossing under your supervision. When the time comes for her to f oss on her own (by around age 10), she’ll probably be a pro!

My kid’s permanent teeth are starting to come in—but she hasn’t lost all of her baby teeth yet! Is this normal?

“Yes, we see this in about 30 percent of patients,” says Dr. Miller. It can happen to just one tooth at a time or a few simultaneously. If your child isn’t in pain, encourage her to gently wiggle any loose baby teeth to speed up the process. However, if the baby tooth is still there four to six weeks later, schedule an appointment with the dentist to see if it should be removed.

Will an electric toothbrush offer a more thorough cleaning?

Technically, yes, but here’s a better rule of thumb: Go with whatever toothbrush your child will use most frequently, says Dr. Miller. If that means an electric, you can start using it when you’re still brushing his teeth. But keep in mind that it’s best to splurge on the higher-tech Philips Sonicare or Oral-B models. They can potentially clean more thoroughly than the battery-operated ones sold in grocery stores. “Those are basically manual toothbrushes that move a bit,” says Dr. Miller.

Better yet, buy an electric toothbrush with a timer or interactive capabilities. For example, the Colgate Magik toothbrush connects with an app, and it offers an interactive gaming experience for children ages 5-10. Your little one can win rewards for good brushing technique, which might inspire a lifelong habit of dental hygiene. Parents can also track progress with the Colgate Magik dashboard.

Parents Magazine