Frequently Asked Questions About Your Child's Dental Health

We learn valuable lessons about dental hygiene at an early age. Brushing, flossing and a good diet are building blocks you can provide for your child's future dental health. Tooth decay is one of the most common health problems confronted in childhood, but also one of the most preventable. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions regarding children's dental hygiene.

Why is it important to care for baby teeth when they are going to be lost anyway?

Never neglect your child's teeth--no matter how long they will have them. Strong, clean baby teeth are a critical part of a child's overall health, and habits learned early will serve them well for a lifetime. More specifically, decay and the early loss of baby teeth can disrupt the placement of permanent teeth and require orthodontic correction later on. Healthy baby teeth also help your child speak, bite and chew properly.

What are the recommended brushing habits for different ages?

Baby teeth can be cleaned as soon as they erupt. For infants, use a soft-bristle brush and warm water. Toddlers can begin using a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste when they are old enough to avoid swallowing it. Around seven years of age, children can brush their own teeth without supervision. And, of course, always remember to brush your child's teeth twice a day.

What role does fluoride play in my child's dental health?

Fluoride can help teeth resist decay, but it's important to strike the right balance. Not enough of the element will increase the likelihood of cavities. Too much can permanently discolor teeth. Children shouldn't swallow fluoridated toothpaste, so don't use it until they are able to spit it out. Always keep any products containing fluoride out of a child's reach.

How soon and how often should my child see the dentist?

Children should visit the dentist by their first birthday. After that, plan on two check ups a year. Don't instill a fear of the dentist's office. Instead, focus on the fun, positive aspects of the visit.

When will my baby get teeth?

Your baby's teeth will have formed before he is born. The eruption of the first teeth usually occurs around 6 months of age, but can happen as early as 4 months. These first teeth are the lower central incisors. The eruption sequence for the remaining teeth will not necessarily follow a strict pattern, but expect your child to have most of his teeth by age 3. He will then begin to lose those primary teeth and erupt permanent teeth, including molars, around the age of 6 or 7.

What do I do in the case of a dental emergency?

The first thing to remember is stay calm. If your child's emergency involves a blow to head, possible loss of consciousness or broken jaw, call a doctor immediately or go to the emergency room.


Clean around the affected tooth, have your child rinse with warm saltwater, and use dental floss to remove any food that may be trapped. It's not recommended that you apply aspirin on the gum or on the aching tooth, which could cause the tissue to burn. Your child can take acetopmetaphin or ibuprofen for the pain. Call your dentist if the pain persists.

Cut or Bitten Tongue, Lip or Cheek

If there is bleeding, apply gentle pressure with a clean gauze or cloth. If the bleeding cannot be controlled, go to the emergency room.

Knocked Out Tooth

If you can find the tooth, handle it by the crown and rinse it with water only. If there are no fractures in the tooth, try to replace it in the socket and have your child hold it there by biting on gauze. If that will not work, you can place the tooth in a cup of milk or the child's saliva, or even have your child hold it in her mouth next to her cheek (if she is old enough to avoid swallowing it). Time is of the essence when it comes to saving a tooth, so see your dentist immediately.

Chipped or Fractured Permanent Tooth

As with a knocked-out tooth, quick action is important. Rinse the mouth with water and apply cold compresses to reduce swelling. Save any tooth fragments and provide them to your dentist.

Knocked Out, Chipped or Fractured Baby Tooth:

Contact your dentist. Baby teeth are not re-implanted.

Why does my child grind his teeth?

Nocturnal grinding of teeth, also known as bruxism, usually does not require treatment. Parents may notice a noise their sleeping child makes or the teeth actually wearing down from the grinding. If this attrition is severe enough, a child may have to wear a mouth guard at night. The cause of bruxism isn't really known, but some theories point to emotional stress and inner ear pressure. Most children outgrow the habit, with teeth grinding decreasing by the age of 6 and usually ending altogether by age 12.

Why shouldn't I put my baby to bed with a bottle?

Many liquids you put in your baby's bottle contain sugar, including milk and formula. If your baby drinks from that bottle for long periods of time, especially throughout the night, the sugary liquids pool around his teeth and convert into acid that attacks enamel. This condition, known as baby bottle decay, can cause rapid deterioration of your child's teeth. Ideally, you shouldn't give your baby any cup or bottle in his bed. If you must, gradually dilute the contents until it contains only water.

Is it OK for my child to suck his thumb?

Thumb sucking is a natural, comforting act for babies and small children. It only becomes a problem if the habit continues past the eruption of permanent teeth. Intense thumb sucking can interfere with the growth and alignment of teeth, while passively resting the thumb in the mouth when bored or tired probably won't cause problems. Either way, encourage your child to cease the habit before new teeth come in. Provide rewards and praise when he doesn't suck his thumb, and look for ways to ease anxiety that may be encouraging the habit. If those efforts are unsuccessful , speak to your dentist about mouth guards or other preventative measures.

When should we look into orthodontics for my child?

Orthodontic treatment is used to correct a bad bite, or malocclusion. In many cases, the teeth may appear crowded or crooked. Sometimes, however, the teeth look perfectly straight but the upper and lower jaws don't meet properly. Malocclusions can be recognized as early as 2 to 3 years of age, reducing the need for extensive orthodontic treatment later on. Realignment problems can often be addressed between the ages of 6 and 12, when your child's mouth is very responsive to treatment. An orthodontic screening is recommended around age 7.

How can a mouth guard help my child?

Custom and store-bought mouth guards are an excellent way to protect your child's teeth, lips, tongue and jaw while participating in sports or recreational activities. A guard that fits correctly will not interfere with speaking or breathing, and will keep your child comfortable while playing sports. Ask your dentist if your child should wear one.