Seeing your child smile is one of the joys of parenthood. Taking care of their teeth can help protect that smile. When it comes to dental care for kids, parents have a lot of questions. A select group of dentists shared—and answered—the most common ones they encounter.
1. When Should I Make My Kid’s First Dentist Appointment?
Most dentists suggest that your child’s first appointment be within six months of the appearance of their first tooth. Teeth usually start to erupt at about six months of age, so around their first birthday is a good time.
Some people may think that is young, but it is important to get them started early. A dentist will be able to make sure their teeth, jaw, and mouth are developing normally. If there are concerns, they can be addressed before they become severe.
The dentist is also a good source of help and advice to curb habits like thumb-sucking and pacifier use. Whether you see a pediatric dentist or your family dentist, making visits a routine part of your child’s life can get them on the right track for ongoing oral health. For more information, read When Should I Schedule My Kid’s First Dentist Appointment and Is There Such a Thing as “Just for Kids” Dental Service?
2. Since Baby Teeth Fall Out, Why Do They Matter?
Even though primary teeth, also called baby teeth, will eventually fall out, they are still important to your child’s overall dental health. They help in learning to chew, in speech development, and in making a path for permanent teeth.
Tooth decay can grow in baby teeth just as it can in adult teeth. Food and beverages, and even breast milk contain acids that can break down the tooth’s enamel. You should establish a routine of brushing your child’s teeth as soon as they come in. Even before your child gets his or her first tooth, you should clean their gums by wiping them with a soft cloth.
As your child gets older, you can teach them the proper way to brush and floss their own teeth. Some children still don’t brush well, so you will still need to supervise them. My Kids Don’t Brush Well. What Can I Do? can offer some tips.
Your child should have regular checkups and have cavities fixed if they occur. Preventive measures such as sealants may be suggested too. Baby teeth are just as important as adult teeth and should receive the same amount of attention.
3. My Kid Has a Cavity. Now What?
If you suspect your child has a cavity, or if your dentist has found one, it needs to be fixed. This goes for baby teeth as well as permanent teeth. Baby teeth are important for the reasons detailed above, so it’s best if they stay intact.
Left untreated, a cavity can become much more severe. It may become much more painful for your child and much more expensive to fix. (Read more here: Do I Need to Get My Cavity Filled?)
The procedure for filling a tooth is the same as it is for an adult. One exception may be that the dentist might offer sedation dentistry. The dentist administers a gas that relaxes your child while keeping him or her fully awake.
The dentist will numb the area with a local anesthetic. He will then drill out the decay and fill the hole with a composite filling material.
Kid-friendly dentists know the best methods to put your child at ease. They can perform the procedure with minimal pain and discomfort.
4. Why Is My Dentist Suggesting a Fluoride Treatment for My Child?
Fluoride is a mineral that is found in bones and teeth. It strengthens tooth enamel to help prevent cavities. It is a common ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash.
Over the past several decades, the Center for Disease Control has led a program to fluoridate drinking water in the United States. Additional fluoride is added to most public water supplies and as a result, tooth decay has decreased in the general public. You can read about the CDC’s results here.
If the tap water in your region does not have a lot of fluoride, or if your child drinks mainly bottled water, they may not be getting sufficient amounts. Your dentist may recommend additional fluoride treatments.
Fluoride treatments administered by your dentist might include rinses, gels, foams, or varnishes. They are applied topically directly to your child’s teeth. The treatments are quick and painless and are typically part of your child’s routine dental appointment.
5. Are Dental X-Rays Safe?
Often, the only way for the dentist to see if your child has a cavity is with an X-ray. Since X-rays use radiation you may wonder about their safety.
First, the radiation exposure of a traditional dental X-ray is such a small amount that it should not be a concern. Even so, dentists use lead aprons or capes to protect your child. And the high-speed film used to take the X-rays minimizes exposure time.
Second, many dentist are moving away from traditional X-rays and using digitial radiography, more commonly known as digital X-rays. These have superior resolution (in other words, they make a better picture) with less radiation exposure.
Getting X-rays, either traditional or digital, allows your dentist to notice and treat issues before they become serious problems.
6. What Are Sealants and Does My Kid Need Them?
Dental sealants are a clear, resin coating that is applied to the surface of teeth. They act as a barrier to the acids and bacteria that cause tooth decay. Although anyone can get sealants, they are most often recommended for children.
If your child is cavity-prone, your dentist may suggest them. In some cases, they may be applied to baby teeth. Usually, though, the dentist will wait until your child’s permanent teeth have come in completely.
Sealants are a safe and effective way to give your kid added protection from the decay that causes cavities. These articles look at dental sealants in depth: What are Sealants? Do My Kids Need Them? and The Pros and Cons of Dental Sealants.
7. Can My Kid Use Teeth Whitening Products?
Many factors can contribute the discoloration of children’s teeth. Drinking certain liquids, taking medications, and heredity can play a part.
Whitening toothpaste products can help with surface stains. It won’t, however, do anything to change his or her natural tooth color. Be sure to check the label carefully for age recommendations.
As for whitening strips, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry does not recommend them for children under the age of 15. In their opinion, there hasn’t been enough research conducted to prove that they are safe for younger children.
For professional whitening, you can ask your dentist. Most dentists will suggest that the enamel on a child’s teeth should be fully calcified before any bleaching agents are used. It takes about two years after an adult tooth comes in for it to fully calcify. Using harsh whitening treatments before that can break down the tooth enamel and damage gum tissue.
8. My Kid Has Crooked Teeth. How Early Can He/She Get Braces?
Before your child’s mouth and jaw are fully grown, they may not get the full benefit of any teeth-straightening process. For this reason, one option for young children might be to simply “wait and see.” As your child grows, the extent of his or her issue might change and the best treatment option might become clear.
In general, braces are recommended for more severe issues, or malocclusions, such as an overbite, underbite, or crossbite. Less serious crowding, crookedness, or gaps may be fixed with other alignment products.
If braces are chosen as the best option, there are still more choices to make. Clear or ceramic braces are available in addition to the traditional metal ones. Headgear will sometimes be recommended to help the process along.
Because straightening your child’s teeth is a development issue and not just an age issue, every child will be different. According to some dentists and orthodontists, the ideal age for braces would be between 10 and 14, but children as young as seven can sometimes be fitted for braces.
9. I’ve Heard a Lot About Invisalign. What Is It?
As mentioned above, you have a few choices to straighten your child’s teeth if their problem is less severe. Invisalign is an alternative to traditional braces. Our article Are Invisalign and Clear Braces the Same Thing? explains both options.
Invisalign is a popular product for adults and teens, but it is not recommended for children younger than 12. Part of the product’s appeal is that it is practically invisible, and unlike braces, it can be taken out. In order to work, they must be kept in for a recommended period of time.
Some children may not have the self-discipline for this. But if your child’s teeth are fully developed, and your child is mature enough to wear them consistently, Invisalign can be a great option.
For any type of straightening treatment, your child’s dentist will be the best person to judge when they are ready.
When in Doubt, Ask Your Dentist
For more information about these and any other questions related to your child’s dental health, check with your dentist. If you don’t have a dentist, you can use our online search tool to find one in your area.
No one cares more about your child’s well-being than you. Making sure they get the best possible dental care will help you keep them healthy and smiling for years to come.