Frequently Asked Questions
When should I take my child for the first dental visit and how often?
Your child should see his/her pediatric dentist when the first tooth appears and no later than 1 year of age. Although many teeth are not present, this is a recommended time in order to discuss potentially harmful habits/dietary practices and to prevent cavities and infections in the future. A check-up is recommended every 6 months, but may vary based on your child’s level of risk and can be discussed with your dentist in more detail.
What should I use to clean my child’s teeth?
A soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head is ideal to properly remove plaque and bacteria which can lead to cavities. Starting with a toothbrush early can provide the benefit of getting your child accustomed to using a toothbrush. It is recommended to brush your child’s teeth twice a day, especially before bedtime. As a parent, you should be brushing your child’s teeth or, in cases of slightly older children, assisting/reviewing brushing.
What do I need to know about toothpastes, when to start and what kind?
The sooner you start with toothpaste the better. Prior to eruption of teeth you can use an infant toothbrush or cloth and water. Once teeth begin to erupt, start brushing twice a day using fluoridated toothpaste (See additional FAQ’s on fluoride and enamel fluorosis below). Use a “smear” of toothpaste if your child is under 2 years of age and a “pea-sized” amount for 2-5 year old children. Begin training your child on spitting out excess toothpaste rather than swallowing it.
What is enamel fluorosis?
This is a condition where defects occur on tooth enamel when a child gets too much fluoride during the years of tooth development by swallowing too much fluoride. This can happen if your child enjoys the taste of fluoridated toothpaste and swallows it or is not yet comfortable with spitting toothpaste out. Additionally, if your child is taking more than the prescribed amount of fluoride supplements or taking supplements when not indicated, enamel fluorosis can also occur. Most cases are mild with tiny white specks/streaks, but in moderate/severe case the teeth present with discoloration or brown markings. Talk more with your pediatric dentist about ways to prevent fluorosis while still maintaining the beneficial effects of preventing cavities. Paying attention to the amount of fluoridated toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush is an important way to prevent fluorosis.
My child has special health care needs – what can I do before the dental visit?
Pediatric dentists are trained in seeing kids with special health care needs, but all children are different. Prior to a visit, inform the office of your child’s special needs and we can accommodate as necessary, including extra-time for the appointment. Additionally, if your child has a favorite toy or DVD that tends to provide comfort, it may help to bring it to the office. You may also set up a “non-appointment” visit with our office where you can bring your child to simply tour the office and meet our staff and doctors; this may make the next visit less anxiety-producing. To facilitate your child’s proper care, it is very important to compile all medical history items prior to your visit including, all diagnoses, past surgeries (and dates), medications your child is taking, physical limitations, special dietary concerns, names/numbers of all physicians he/she is seeing (in case a consultation is necessary), etc.
What’s the difference between a pediatric dentist and a family dentist?
Pediatric dentists are primary and specialty oral health care providers for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health care needs. Pediatric dentists complete 2-3 years of additional specialty training after dental school and limits his/her practice to the treatment of children only.
Are baby teeth really that important?
YES! They are important for a variety of reasons. Although baby (primary) teeth do eventually fall out (except in cases where a permanent tooth is congenitally missing), they fall out at various ages. The last baby tooth can remain in the mouth until 12-13 years of age. The range of baby teeth falling out is approximately 5-13 years of age. In this time, baby teeth help your child not only speak and chew naturally, but cavities on them can cause pain, infection, loss of sleep, and possible hospitalization if not treated. Maintaining healthy baby teeth also provides a proper path for permanent teeth to follow when they are ready to erupt. The US Surgeon General’s report on “Oral Health in America” states that oral health is much more than health teeth and that oral health is integral to general health.
US Dept of Health and Human Services. Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, Md: US Dept of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health; 2000.
What do I do if my child has a toothache?
First, rinse the irritated area with warm salt water and place a cold compress on the face if it is swollen. Give the child acetaminophen for any pain; do not place aspirin on the teeth or gums. Aspirin should not be given to your child in any form. Finally, see a dentist as soon as possible. If your child should have swelling visible outside the face, it is very important to see a dentist right away or, during off hours, visit your nearest emergency room as this could develop into a serious condition.
What do I do if my child falls and hurts his/her teeth?
First, remain calm. If your child has knocked a tooth out, find the tooth, trying to avoid touching the root of the tooth. If it is a baby tooth, DO NOT place it back in the mouth, but visit the dentist to ensure no other trauma has occurred (placing a baby tooth back in can cause long-term damage to the permanent tooth bud). If a permanent tooth is knocked out, rinse with cool water only (not scrubbing) and gently try to reinsert it into the socket where the tooth was. If that is not possible for whatever reason, place the tooth in a glass of cold milk and visit the pediatric dentist immediately (the faster you act the better chances of saving the tooth). If your child’s tooth was not knocked out, it is still important to visit the pediatric dentist to fully assess all injuries, including providing antibiotics where necessary. Any fractured pieces of teeth should also be saved and brought to the office. If your child experienced a blow to the head or jaw, he/she needs immediate medical attention as head injuries can be life-threatening.
How can I prevent dental injuries?
Your child’s risk for dental injuries can be reduced greatly by following a few simple suggestions. First, reduce risk for severe oral injury in sports by wearing protective gear, including a mouth-guard. Second, always use a car seat for young children and require seat belts for everyone else in the car. Third, child-proof your home to prevent falls and electrical injuries. Regular dental check-ups provide your dentist an opportunity to discuss additional age-appropriate preventive strategies with your child.
Please visit our information on trauma in the General Topics section for more information.
Are thumbsucking and pacifier habits really harmful?
These habits tend to become a problem when maintained for a long period of time, generally around the age of 3. Many children stop of their own, but those that don’t can have a special appliance placed in his/her mouth. Specific appliances for your child can be discussed more in detail at your visit to the dentist. In the meantime, gentle persuasion is recommended to rid your child of these habits.
How can I prevent cavities?
Taking your child to the dentist regularly, beginning with eruption of the first tooth, can play a big role in preventing tooth decay. At these visits, the dentist can educate you and your child about proper brushing techniques, flossing, and other preventative techniques.
- In addition to properly cleansing your child’s teeth and mouth, a well-balanced diet is very important to preventing decay, such as limiting sugars and starches. Choose a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains that is low in fat and cholesterol. Sugary drinks such as juices, flavored milk, sports drinks, sodas can be very harmful to your child’s teeth due to high amounts of sugar and acid. In addition, these can contribute to childhood obesity and general health.
- Human breast milk is uniquely superior in providing the best nutrition to infants and, alone, does not contribute to causing tooth decay. However, breast feeding in combination with other carbohydrates can be highly causative in causing tooth decay. Avoid nursing your child to bed or putting anything but water in his/her bottle or sippy-cup.
What are sealants and how do they work?
Sealants work by filling in the grooves on the chewing surfaces of teeth. This will block out food and bacterial particles that cause cavities. Application of sealants is a quick and painless process and, when regularly maintained, can protect the teeth for years.
Why is there fluoride in my water?
Adding fluoride to drinking water has been considered one of the Ten Greatest Public Health Achievements in the US. It is a safe and inexpensive way to the benefit to children and adults of preventing tooth decay. For more information about fluoride please visit our General Information Section as well as FAQ’s on the CDC’s website at: http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/fact_sheets/cwf_qa.htm
How safe are dental x-rays?
There is very little risk with dental x-rays. Pediatric dentists are especially careful with children to limit the amount of radiation exposure by only taking x-rays when they’re necessary. Additionally, a lead apron, high-speed and digital x-rays are used to minimize radiation. Today’s equipment filters out unnecessary x-rays and restricts the x-ray beam to the area of interest. In cases of pregnancy, patient or accompanying caregiver, it is important to inform the office so that we may take additional precautions for safety.
Copyright © 2002-2012 American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. All rights reserved.
Although we encourage parents to read through the material presented on our website, please keep in mind that it is presented for educational purposes only and does not imply diagnoses for your child. Treatment options and diagnoses can only be given after a visit to the dentist and a thorough medical history and clinical/radiographic examination.