Here are some answers to a few common questions about children’s dental care:


When should I schedule my child's first visit to the dentist?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child is seen within six months after his first tooth erupts or by one-year-old, whichever is first. We recommend that you schedule an appointment with a pediatric dentist around your child’s first birthday.

How is a pediatric dentist different from other dentists?
All dental specialists (pediatric dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, and others) begin by completing four years of dental school, then continue their education with several years of additional specialized training. During the two to three years of extra training required in the field of pediatric dentistry, your doctor gained extensive knowledge and experience in treating infants, children, and adolescents, including those with special healthcare needs. Pediatric dentists enjoy working with children, and bring to each patient our expertise in childhood development and behavior.


How can I prepare my child for their first dental appointment?
The best preparation for your child's first visit to our office is maintaining a positive attitude. Children are extremely intuitive and pick up on adults' apprehensions and anxiety. 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 doctor on the website. Tell your child about the importance of maintaining healthy teeth and gums. You may want to consider picking up one of the many wonderful children’s books dedicated to the topic of teeth and dentists. We are happy to offer suggestions. Most importantly, remember that your pediatric dentist is specially trained to handle fears and anxiety, and our staff is experienced at putting children at ease during treatment.


How often should my child visit the dentist?
In order to prevent cavities and other dental problems, 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 fall out anyway, so why do they need special care?
Primary, or "baby," teeth are important for many reasons. Not only do they help your child speak clearly, smile beautifully and chew naturally, they also hold space in the jaw for the permanent teeth, forming a path for them to follow when they are ready to erupt. If a child loses a tooth too early (due to trauma or decay) the other teeth around them may shift, resulting 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. Be sure to choose a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head, preferably one designed specifically for infants. A toothbrush will remove plaque bacteria that can lead to decay and should be used at least once a day at bedtime.


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, and be sure to choose toothpaste without fluoride for children under two, because too much fluoride can be dangerous for very young children. Teach your child to rinse and spit out toothpaste after brushing, which will help form a lifelong habit he'll need when he graduates to fluoride toothpaste. Children naturally want to swallow toothpaste after brushing, and swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can cause teeth to stain. Fluoridated toothpaste should be introduced when a child is 2-3 years of age. Parents should supervise brushing and make sure the child uses no more than a pea-sized amount on the brush.


How do I know if my child is getting enough fluoride?

Have your pediatric dentist evaluate the fluoride level of your child's primary source of drinking water. If your child is not getting enough fluoride internally, then your pediatric dentist may prescribe fluoride supplements.


What causes cavities?
Certain types of bacteria naturally live in our mouths. When these bacteria come into contact with sugary foods left behind on our teeth, they produce acids. These acids attack the tooth enamel (outer, protective layer) and eventually eat through the enamel, 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 remove food debris between the teeth that the bristles of a toothbrush cannot reach. Check with your pediatric dentist about a fluoride supplement which helps harden the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay. Avoid sugary foods and drinks, limit snacking, and eat a healthy diet. The final key to preventing cavities is maintaining regular check-up appointments so that we can monitor the health of your child's teeth and provide professional cleanings.


A checkup every six months is recommended in order prevent cavities and other dental problems. However, your pediatric dentist can tell you when and how often your child should visit based on their personal oral health.


How can I prevent decay caused by nursing?

Avoid nursing children to sleep or putting anything other than water in their bed-time bottle. Also, learn the proper way to brush and floss your child's teeth. Beginning around their first birthday, take your child to a pediatric dentist regularly to have their teeth and gums checked.


Does my child need dental sealants?
Sealants work by filling in the deep crevasses on the chewing surfaces of the teeth. This blocks food particles from getting caught in the teeth and causing cavities. The application is fast and comfortable and can effectively protect teeth for many years. We recommend sealants as a safe and simple way to help prevent cavities.


My child plays sports. How can I protect his teeth?
We recommend mouthguards for children active in sports. If your little one plays basketball, soccer, hockey or other sports, ask us about having a custom-fitted mouthguard made to protect his teeth, lips, cheeks, and gums. Also, please always make sure your child wears a helmet when riding a bicycle, as it can help prevent severe injuries to the head, face and oral structures.


What should I do if my child sucks his thumb or uses a pacifier?
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 sucks aggressively, let us know and we can check to see if any problems may arise from the habit.


Thumb and pacifier sucking habits will generally only become a problem if they go on for a very long period of time. Most children stop these habits on their own, but if they are still sucking their thumbs or fingers when the permanent teeth arrive, a mouth appliance may be recommended by your pediatric dentist


When should my child have dental X-rays taken?
This decision is extremely variable and will depend on the doctor’s clinical examination or your child’s mouth. Typically speaking, we recommend taking an initial set of x-rays around the age of 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, regular x-rays are recommended to detect cavities between the teeth that may not be visible in the mouth. 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 or more frequently, but the decision is always based on a thorough examination of your child’s specific condition.


How safe are dental X-rays?

There is very little risk in dental X-rays. Pediatric dentists are especially careful to limit the amount of radiation to which children are exposed. Lead aprons and digital radiography (lower radiation) are used in our office to ensure safety and minimize the amount of radiation.


What should I do if my child falls and knocks out a tooth?

The most important thing to do is to remain calm. Find the tooth and do your best to hold it by the crown rather than the root. You may gently rinse the tooth with saline or milk to remove any debris, being careful to only touch the crown with your fingers. If the entire root is still intact, try to reinsert it in the socket. If that is not possible, put the tooth in a glass of milk and take your child and the glass immediately to your pediatric dentist. Please note that baby teeth are generally not reinserted in the socket due to the risk of damage to the developing permanent tooth beneath it, however your child should still be seen by your pediatric dentist promptly.


What should I do if my child has a toothache?

First, rinse the irritated area with warm water and use floss to dislodge any food that might be stuck in the tooth or gums. Give the child acetaminophen (tylenol) for any pain, according to the weight/dosage chart on the bottle. Do NOT place an aspirin directly on the teeth or gums. If the face is swollen, place a cold compress on the area and call our office immediately. A swollen face is a sign of a very serious infection requiring prompt attention.


What if a child is unable to cooperate for treatment?

We try to help your child feel good about visiting the dentist. Our main concern is what is best for your child. If a child is especially fearful, nitrous oxide, sedation, or general anesthesia may be recommended.



Disclaimer: Dr. Natasha Larson makes no warranties, express or implied, as to results to be obtained from use of the above information. We cannot diagnose or treat patients over the Internet. Information on this site is for educational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for personal, medical and/or dental attention or diagnosis. Without all available information about a patient, it is impossible to make a diagnosis. Help and answers are in the form of general ideas. Only you, your dentist and health care provider can make an appropriate treatment decision in an emergency or for everyday care and dental treatment.