Below are common questions and our answers about the best way to care for children’s teeth.
What is a Pediatric Dentist?
The pediatric dentist has an extra two to three years of specialized training after dental school, and is dedicated to the oral health of children from infancy through the teenage years. The very young, pre-teens, and teenagers all need different approaches in dealing with their behavior, guiding their dental growth and development, and helping them avoid future dental problems. The pediatric dentist is best qualified to meet these needs.
When should I schedule my child’s first visit to the dentist?
We recommend that you make an appointment to see the dentist as soon as your child gets his first tooth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children be seen by six months after their first tooth erupts, or at one year of age, whichever comes first.
How is a pediatric dentist different from other dentists?
All dental specialists (pediatric dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, and others) begin by completing dental school, then continue their education with several years of additional specialized training. During training in the field of pediatric dentistry, your doctor gained extensive knowledge and experience in treating infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatric dentists enjoy working with children, and bring to each patient our expertise in childhood development and behavior. Because our office is geared toward young visitors, you'll find that our staff, as well as our office design, decorations, and activities all work together to provide an especially friendly and comfortable environment for children.
What happens during my child’s first visit to the dentist?
The first visit is usually short and simple. In most cases, we focus on getting to know your child and giving you some basic information about dental care. The doctor will check your child’s teeth for placement and health, and will look for any potential problems with the gums and jaw. If necessary, we may do a bit of cleaning. We will also answer any questions you have about how to care for your child’s teeth as they develop, and provide you with materials containing helpful tips that you can refer to at home.
How can I prepare my child for his first dental appointment?
The best preparation for your child’s first visit to our office is maintaining a positive attitude. Children pick up on adults’ apprehensions, and if you make negative comments about trips to the dentist you can be sure that your child will fear an unpleasant experience and act accordingly. Show your child the pictures of the office and staff on the website. Let your child know that it’s important to keep his teeth and gums healthy, and that the doctor will help him do that. Remember that your dentist is specially trained to handle fears and anxiety, and our staff excels at putting children at ease during treatment.
How often should my child visit the dentist?
We generally recommend scheduling checkups every six months. Depending on the circumstances of your child’s oral health, we may recommend more frequent visits.
Baby teeth aren’t permanent. Why do they need special care?
Although they don’t last as long as permanent teeth, your child’s first teeth play an important role in his development. While they’re in place, these primary teeth help your little one speak, smile, and chew properly. They also hold space in the jaw for permanent teeth. If a child loses a tooth too early (due to damage or decay) nearby teeth may encroach on that space, which can result in crooked or misplaced permanent teeth. Also, your child’s general health is affected by the oral health of the teeth and gums.
What’s the best way to clean my baby’s teeth?
Even before your baby’s first tooth appears, we recommend you clean his gums after feedings with a damp, soft washcloth. As soon as his first tooth appears, you can start using a toothbrush. Choose a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head. You most likely can find a toothbrush designed for infants at your local drugstore.
At what age is it appropriate to use toothpaste to clean my child’s teeth?
Once your child has a few teeth, you can start using toothpaste on the brush. Use only a tiny amount of fluoridated toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice) for each cleaning. Always have your child rinse and spit out toothpaste after brushing. Children naturally want to swallow toothpaste after brushing, and swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can cause teeth to stain. You should brush your child’s teeth for him until he is ready to take on that responsibility himself, which usually happens by age six or seven.
What causes cavities?
Certain types of bacteria live in our mouths. When these bacteria come into contact with sugary foods left behind on our teeth after eating, acids are produced. These acids attack the enamel on the exterior of the teeth, eventually eating through the enamel and creating holes in the teeth, which we call cavities.
How can I help my child avoid cavities?
Be sure that your child brushes his teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Flossing daily is also important, because flossing can reach spots between the teeth that brushing can’t. Check with your pediatric dentist about a fluoride supplement, which helps tooth enamel become harder and more resistant to decay. Avoid sugary foods and drinks, limit snacking, and maintain a healthy diet. And finally, make regular appointments so that we can check the health of your child’s teeth and provide professional cleanings.
Does my child need dental sealants?
Sealants cover the pits and fissures in teeth that are difficult to brush and therefore susceptible to decay. We recommend sealants as a safe, simple way to help your child avoid cavities, especially for molars, which are hardest to reach.
My child plays sports. How can I protect his teeth?
Even children’s sports involve contact, and we recommend mouthguards for children active in sports. If your little one plays baseball, soccer, or other sports, ask us about having a custom-fitted mouthguard made to protect his teeth, lips, cheeks, and gums.
What should I do if my child sucks his thumb?
The large majority of children suck their thumbs or fingers as infants, and most grow out of it by the age of four, without causing any permanent damage to their teeth. If your child continues sucking after permanent teeth erupt, or if he sucks aggressively, let us know and we can check to see if any problems may arise from the habit.
When should my child have dental X-rays taken?
We recommend taking X-rays around the age of two or three. The first set consists of simple pictures of the front upper and lower teeth, which familiarizes your child with the process. Once the baby teeth in back are touching one another, then regular (at least yearly) X-rays are recommended. Permanent teeth start coming in around age six, and X-rays help us make sure your child’s teeth and jaw are healthy and properly aligned. If your child is at a high risk of dental problems, we may suggest having X-rays taken at an earlier age.
Why are the Primary Teeth Important?
It is very important to maintain the health of the primary teeth. Neglected cavities can and frequently do lead to problems which affect developing permanent teeth. Primary teeth, or baby teeth are important for (1) proper chewing and eating, (2) providing space for the permanent teeth and guiding them into the correct position, and (3) permitting normal development of the jaw bones and muscles. Primary teeth also affect the development of speech and add to an attractive appearance. While the front 4 teeth last until 6-7 years of age, the back teeth (cuspids and molars) aren’t replaced until age 10-13.
When Will My Baby Start Getting Teeth?
Teething, the process of baby (primary) teeth coming through the gums into the mouth, is variable among individual babies. Some babies get their teeth early and some get them late. In general, the first baby teeth to appear are usually the lower front (anterior) teeth and they usually begin erupting between the age of 6-8 months. See "Eruption of Your Child’s Teeth" for more details.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (Early Childhood Caries)
One serious form of decay among young children is baby bottle tooth decay. This condition is caused by frequent and long exposures of an infant’s teeth to liquids that contain sugar. Among these liquids are milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juice and other sweetened drinks.
Putting a baby to bed for a nap or at night with a bottle other than water can cause serious and rapid tooth decay. Sweet liquid pools around the child’s teeth giving plaque bacteria an opportunity to produce acids that attack tooth enamel. If you must give the baby a bottle as a comforter at bedtime, it should contain only water. If your child won't fall asleep without the bottle and its usual beverage, gradually dilute the bottle's contents with water over a period of two to three weeks.
After each feeding, wipe the baby’s gums and teeth with a damp washcloth or gauze pad to remove plaque. The easiest way to do this is to sit down, place the child’s head in your lap or lay the child on a dressing table or the floor. Whatever position you use, be sure you can see into the child’s mouth easily.
Sippy cups should be used as a training tool from the bottle to a cup and should be discontinued by the first birthday. If your child uses a sippy cup throughout the day, fill the sippy cup with water only (except at mealtimes). By filling the sippy cup with liquids that contain sugar (including milk, fruit juice, sports drinks, etc.) and allowing a child to drink from it throughout the day, it soaks the child’s teeth in cavity causing bacteria.
What is Pulp Therapy?
The pulp of a tooth is the inner, central core of the tooth. The pulp contains nerves, blood vessels, connective tissue and reparative cells. The purpose of pulp therapy in Pediatric Dentistry is to maintain the vitality of the affected tooth (so the tooth is not lost).
Dental caries (cavities) and traumatic injury are the main reasons for a tooth to require pulp therapy. Pulp therapy is often referred to as a "nerve treatment", "children's root canal", "pulpectomy" or "pulpotomy". The two common forms of pulp therapy in children's teeth are the pulpotomy and pulpectomy.
A pulpotomy removes the diseased pulp tissue within the crown portion of the tooth. Next, an agent is placed to prevent bacterial growth and to calm the remaining nerve tissue. This is followed by a final restoration (usually a stainless steel crown).
A pulpectomy is required when the entire pulp is involved (into the root canal(s) of the tooth). During this treatment, the diseased pulp tissue is completely removed from both the crown and root. The canals are cleansed, disinfected and, in the case of primary teeth, filled with a resorbable material. Then, a final restoration is placed. A permanent tooth would be filled with a non-resorbing material.