Dental Health Guide for Children

Toddler girl brushing teeth
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Parents often have questions about how to take care of their children's teeth. When should you start brushing? What kind of toothpaste is best? When should you go to the dentist? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you keep your kids' teeth healthy and cavity-free.

Although you don't necessarily need to brush them yet, you should start cleaning your infant's teeth as soon as he gets his first tooth (and his gums even before he gets teeth).

At first, you can just use a washcloth to clean your infant's teeth. As he gets more teeth, you can use a soft children's toothbrush.

Fluoridated Toothpaste

Because there is some danger if your child gets too much fluoride, your choice of toothpaste is important. Keep in mind that most brands of kids' toothpaste are fluoridated. They just have different flavors and popular characters on them to make them more fun for children, but that doesn't make it safe for your children to swallow too much of the toothpaste.

If using fluoride toothpaste, use just a small smear of toothpaste until your toddler is about two years old. Then, you can start to use a small, pea-sized amount of toothpaste, so that either way, there is little danger of your child getting too much fluoride if he swallows it. And begin to encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste at a young age.

The other alternative for younger children is to use non-fluoridated toothpaste, such as Baby Orajel Tooth and Gum Cleanser until they are spitting the toothpaste out, but keep in mind that most experts recommend that you use a small amount of toothpaste with fluoride.

First Visit to the Dentist

The timing of the first visit to the dentist used to be a little controversial. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has long stated that children should see a dentist when they get their first tooth and no later than 1 year of age.

In contrast, the American Academy of Pediatrics, used to say that unless your child has risk factors for having problems with his teeth, such as other family members with a lot of cavities, sleeping with a sippy cup or bottle, teeth staining, thumb sucking, etc., the first visit to the dentist should be by around the third birthday.

However, even the AAP suggests that an early visit to the dentist is a good way to learn proper oral hygiene at an early age, including avoiding night-time bottles or sippy cups of formula or juice, proper toothbrushing, and a healthy diet that promotes good dental health. You may also want to see a pediatric dentist early if your child has a medical condition that puts him at risk of having dental problems, such as Down Syndrome.

The AAP policy statement indicates that all children should see a dentist by their first birthday.


Another important topic is figuring out if your child is getting enough fluoride. Children begin to need supplemental fluoride by the age of six months. If your child is drinking tap water (either alone, or mixed with baby formula or 100% fruit juice), and you live in an area with the water is fluoridated, then he should be getting an adequate amount of fluoride. If your child doesn't drink water or drinks well water, unfluoridated bottled water (most brands of bottled water don't have fluoride in them unless the label specifically states that they do), or filtered water, then he may not be getting enough fluoride to keep his teeth healthy.

Talk with your pediatrician or dentist about fluoride supplements.

Water filters are a special concern because some of them do filter out fluoride. Countertop filters and the pitcher type filters usually don't remove fluoride, but the more sophisticated, point of use filters can. If in doubt, check with the manufacturer to see if the filter removes fluoride.


You should also talk to your dentist about using sealants in your school-age child. A sealant is a plastic material that is applied to the teeth, hardens, and provides a barrier against plaque and other harmful substances. Sealants can be applied to the 1st and 2nd permanent molars to help protect the grooves and pits of these teeth that can be hard to clean and are prone to developing cavities, and appropriate premolars as soon as possible after they erupt (usually after 6 years of age).


What about flossing? Flossing is an important part of good dental hygiene.

You can begin flossing your child's teeth once they are touching each other. Children usually aren't able to floss on their own until they are 8 to 10 years old.

Habits for Healthy Teeth

In addition to teaching your children the importance of regular brushing and flossing, routine visits to the dentist and a healthy diet, it is important that you set a good example by also practicing good dental hygiene.

If you do not brush and floss each day or regularly see a dentist, then it is unlikely that your children will either.

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