13 Things Parents Should Know About Children’s Dental Health

Every year, the American Dental Association sponsors National Children’s Dental Health Month in the month of February. It’s the perfect time to answer the top 13 questions parents ask me about their children’s dental health.

Before I get to the questions, I’d like to remind you of the overall purpose of National Children’s Dental Health Month. As the ADA states on their website, “Developing good habits at an early age and scheduling regular dental visits helps children get a good start on a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.”

The ADA has some great fun activity sheets for kids that can help moms and dads reinforce important messages about dental health, so be sure to download them here. Now onto the thirteen things parents common ask:

  1. When do baby teeth develop and first erupt?  Baby teeth develop under the gums of our babies, believe it or not, during the sixth week of pregnancy. A baby’s adult teeth develop during the fourth month of pregnancy within the jaw bones. The first teeth to erupt are the two bottom front teeth, called central incisors, at around 4-6 months of age.
  2. When will my child get adult teeth?  The first adult teeth to erupt are the six-year-old molars at around age six. Your child won’t lose a baby tooth when these erupt because the six-year-old molars erupt behind the last back baby molars.
  3. When should you schedule a child’s first dental appointment?  We recommend the first dental cleaning to be around the age of three.  At this age, children have all their primary teeth, and they are able to listen to directions and sit in the chair.  However, children can be seen as early as one year of age.  It’s a visit where we can see if things are developing in a healthy manner and to educate parents on good oral health.
  4. What is the difference between fluoride from tap water and fluoride in toothpaste?  There are two different kinds of fluoride – “systemic” and “topical.”  Systemic fluoride, which we get from drinking water, is called systemic because it goes through your system.  Most cities have fluoride in their water, and it helps aid in the development of permanent teeth. “Topical” fluoride is what you get from toothpaste, mouthwash or at a dental visit.  This topical fluoride strengthens the enamel on the teeth when it is applied.
  5. When do we recommend a child begin using fluoride toothpaste?  We do not recommend fluoride toothpaste until your child has the ability to spit it out after they brush their teeth. The average age that kids have this ability is age three, but it varies greatly, so please let your child guide you as to when they are ready to spit out the toothpaste after brushing. There are brands of toothpaste that lack fluoride (a training toothpaste) that should be used when kids are too young to discard (spit out) the toothpaste.
  6. Do I have to floss baby teeth? Yes, even if there are spaces between a child’s teeth, it’s good to start.  You want to form this habit at an early age.
  7. Do children grind their teeth?  They do.  In fact, it’s common and normal, and it isn’t stress-related. Why do they do it?  Children’s teeth are relatively flat.  They naturally “grind” because they don’t have adult surfaces that fit together and prevent the grinding motion.  If your child grinds, know that it’s not a TMJ disorder, and they don’t need a night-guard.  Typically, it discontinues with the development of their permanent molars.
  8. When should I discourage finger and thumb-sucking habits? Before the age of three, finger and thumb sucking habits are somewhat subconscious. By the age of three, it is a more realistic goal to be able to give small reminders about stopping the habit.  Developmentally at this age (this will vary according to the child), they’re able to make more of a conscious effort to stop the habit.
  9. Is it okay to allow my child to have milk or juice before bed?  We recommend Milk or diluted juice given during the day only.  Milk, before bed, without brushing afterward, will increase the chances of early childhood caries (another word for cavity or decay.)
  10. When should my child move from a bottle to a cup?  Transitioning from using a bottle to using a cup should happen at one year of age.
  11. Are gummy vitamins okay for a child’s teeth? Unfortunately – considering how much kids love them – gummy vitamins are not healthy for teeth.  They can increase the chance for a cavity to form.
  12. Do you need to treat cavities in baby teeth?  A cavity in baby teeth needs dental attention too. Many children don’t lose baby teeth until the ages of 13 or 14.  If a cavity is left untreated, you run the risk of the bacteria spreading, getting an abscess or a more serious infection.
  13. Is it true you should throw away a child’s toothbrush after they’ve been sick?  I highly recommend it. Your mouth carries a ton of bacteria, which can live on a toothbrush after the illness has passed.  To be on the safe side, throw that toothbrush away after a child recovers.

And just a reminder that a child – and adults – should see a dentist once every six months for a routine dental cleaning and checkup.  Happy National Children’s Dental Health Month!

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