Frequently asked questions

When should my child have their first dental visit?
In order to prevent dental problems, your child should see a pediatric dentist when the first tooth appears or no later than his/her first birthday.

Do you have any tips for getting a toddler to brush their teeth?

  • Sing a song while brushing their teeth
  • Let them play with the toothbrush in order to get used to it in their mouth
  • Have them lie on a couch or the floor with their head in your lap
  • Incorporate it into your morning and night time routines
  • Brush your teeth together
  • Use a favorite stuffed animal to “model” brushing, or even have the stuffed animal be the one to hold the toothbrush
  • Have them roar like a lion, dinosaur, or bear to get them to open wide.
  • Say “EEEEE” for the outsides and “AHHHH” for the insides
  • Have them hold a book or other distraction while you brush (works great in bed at night!)

How many times a day should you brush their teeth?
At least twice a day, always with fluoridated toothpaste (see more below).  No rinsing and no sink required!

How many times a day should you floss your teeth?
Every night, if teeth touch (contact) each other. Floss AFTER brushing to ‘push’ toothpaste between baby teeth where cavities start.  Try flossing in bed while reading a story.  We can give you flossers to make the job a snap!

How often does my child need to see the pediatric dentist?
A check-up every six months is recommended in order prevent cavities, check jaw growth and prevent other dental problems. However, your pediatric dentist can tell you when and how often your child should visit based on their personal oral health.

What is the difference between a pediatric dentist and a family dentist?
Pediatric dentists are the pediatricians of dentistry. A pediatric dentist has two to three years specialty training following dental school and limits his/her practice to treating children only. Pediatric dentists are primary and specialty oral care providers for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health needs.  Dr. Gretchen was trained in a hospital program and is a Board Certified pediatric dentist.

What should I use to clean my baby’s teeth?
A toothbrush will remove plaque bacteria that can lead to decay. Any soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head, preferably one designed specifically for infants, should be used at least 2 x a day.  Some parents prefer a finger brush or washcloth.  Special ‘wipes’ with xylitol are available at the store.   Never put an infant down to sleep with milk or other sweetened liquids in their mouth.  The sugars (natural or added) will pool around the baby teeth and can lead to early infant cavities (baby bottle syndrome).

Are baby teeth really that important to my child?
Primary, or “baby,” teeth are important for many reasons. Not only do they help children speak clearly and chew naturally, they also aid in forming a path that permanent teeth can follow when they are ready to erupt.  There are 20 baby teeth.  Eight baby teeth will come out by age 8, BUT the remaining 12 baby teeth don’t fall out till age 12!

Are thumb sucking and pacifier habits harmful for a child’s teeth?
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 past the age of three, the habit can alter the growth of the jaw and bite.  Most parents find it easiest to discontinue pacifier habits by 18 months of age (and prior to the terrible twos!)  Ask us for tips and tricks to discourage habits that can lead to permanent growth disturbances.

Toothpaste: when should we begin using it and how much should we use?
Toothpaste is for teeth, so begin using toothpaste as soon as your child has a tooth!  Starting at birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water. As soon as the teeth begin to appear, start brushing twice daily using fluoridated toothpaste and a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush. Use a “smear” of toothpaste to brush the teeth of a child who cannot spit. For the 2-5 year old, dispense a “pea-size” amount of toothpaste and perform or assist your child’s toothbrushing. Remember that young children do not have the ability to brush their teeth effectively. Fluoride paste continues working for 30 minutes, so don’t rinse!

What’s the deal with ‘safe to swallow’ toothpaste?

Its a common misconception that ‘safe to swallow’ toothpastes can prevent cavities.  These formulas do not prevent cavities and have no benefits for your child.  They are generally heavily sweetened and incorrectly encourage infants and toddlers to swallow toothpaste.  All teeth benefit from fluoride, especially teeth that are just erupting into the mouth.  However, just like any vitamin, fluoride toothpaste should be kept out of reach of little hands and dispensed and applied only by an adult.  Use just a smear of fluoridated toothpaste until your child can spit.  Never add additional paste just because they like the taste.  Fluoride paste continues working for 30 minutes, so don’t rinse!

At what age can my child brush his/her teeth themselves?

Practice makes perfect.  We doen’t expect our toddlers or young children to ties their shoelaces or put their hair in a ponytail, yet many parents expect their children to brush their teeth by themselves.  Toothbrushing is an acquired skill, and one that takes years of practice.  Most children need an adult to brush their teeth until they are 8 years old.  Eventually, adults can supervise the brushing or check (with a toothbrush) after a child brushes.  For patients with special needs or sensory issues, adults may need to brush well into the teenage years.  Remember, it only takes 2 minutes 2 x day to brush those teeth, and the benefits of having an adult brush really pay off!

Help, my child won’t let me help brush teeth!

Parents are often concerned when children won’t let them help brush teeth.  There are many things that children don’t like to do (take a bath, eat vegetables, etc.) however, as a parent, it is not just nice to brush your child’s teeth, it is mandatory!  A child who fights you will continue to fight if you give in and let them take over.  Once your child understands that you won’t give up, brushing will get easier.  And don’t worry that they won’t like to brush their teeth,  clean teeth and no cavities is a big reward.  We can help, just ask for tips!

When will my child have teeth come in and fall out?
The average age for the first tooth to erupt in infants is 6 months. This tooth is the bottom central incisor. Your child should have 20 primary (baby) teeth by 2 ½ to 3 years of age. The first permanent molars, or 6 year molars, come in around the age of 6 and they erupt behind all of the primary teeth. Your child should lose their first tooth (lower central incisor) around the age of 6-7 years. The average age for a child to lose their last baby tooth is 12 years of age.

Does it hurt to lose a tooth?
It doesn’t have to hurt. Usually it hurts if you try to get your tooth to fall out before it is ready. Sometimes the dentist has to pull your baby tooth out so the adult tooth can grow in. Kids are sometimes scared that this will hurt, but dentists do a great job to make sure that it doesn’t hurt. The strange feeling you feel when your tooth falls out can sometimes be scary, but it doesn’t have to hurt. Just be patient, and the tooth will fall out.  Its okay to wiggle a loose baby tooth with a clean finger.

What should 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 a children’s dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen (Tylenol or Motrin) for any pain.   Never place aspirin or any other medication/ointment on the teeth or gums. Call our office immediately for an appointment.  Toothaches in children are rare and may be an indication of a serious infection.