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Caring For Your Child’s Teeth

While most parents are diligent about taking their children to the doctor for routine medical visits, many people don’t treat their children’s teeth with the same importance. Developing a proper oral hygiene routine, including regular visits to the dentist, is one of the most important habits parents can pass on to their children to help them have healthy teeth for life.

Dr. John Palm of Keystone Dental Care shares some information about how to properly care for babies’ and children’s teeth and how to prepare for their first dental office visit.

How and when should parents begin caring for their baby’s teeth?

Begin cleaning your baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad, teeth wipes or washcloth. Gently wipe his or her gums after each feeding.

For children younger than 3 years, start brushing their teeth as soon as they begin to come into the mouth by using fluoride toothpaste in an amount no more than the size of a grain of rice. Brush teeth thoroughly twice per day with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush or finger brush. Supervise children’s brushing to ensure that they use the appropriate amount of toothpaste and remind them not to swallow the toothpaste. When your child has two adjacent teeth that touch side-by-side, you should begin cleaning between his or her teeth daily with flossers.

Introduce a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste for children 3 to 6 years of age. Do not do this until the child is old enough to spit out the toothpaste after brushing. Use only the recommended amount of toothpaste and tell your child to spit out—not swallow—the toothpaste.

Until you’re comfortable that your child can brush on his or her own, continue to brush your child’s teeth twice a day with a child-size toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Allow the child to watch you brush, and follow the same brushing pattern to minimize missed spots. Typically around age 8, most children are able to brush on their own with minimal supervision.

Prevent baby bottle tooth decay: Don’t give children a bottle of milk, juice or sweetened liquid at bedtime or naptime. Don’t allow children to walk around with a sippy cup filled with sugary beverages all day long. Encourage water between meals, and limit milk and other drinks that may contain sugar to mealtime.

Avoid foods and treats that increase tooth decay: hard or sticky candies, gummy fruit snacks, multi-vitamins that are high in sugar and sweetened drinks and juice. Offer fruit rather than juice; the fiber in fruit tends to scrape the teeth clean, whereas juice just exposes the teeth to sugar.

When should the first dental appointment be scheduled?

The American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend that the first dental visit should occur within six months after the baby’s first tooth appears, but no later than the child’s first birthday. Baby teeth are vulnerable to tooth decay from their very first appearance, on average between six months and one year of age. Being proactive about your child’s dental health today can help keep his or her smile healthy for life. It is important to have his or her teeth screened by a dental professional at medical well-child visits. This service is offered at both Keystone Dental and Keystone Pediatrics Chambersburg.

What will be done at the first dental appointment?

Most initial office visits are to help acquaint the child with the dental professional. The first visit usually lasts 30-45 minutes. During the visit, you will be seated in the dental chair with your child on your lap if your child isn’t able to — or doesn’t want to — sit in the chair alone. The dentist will check the teeth, jaws, bite, gums and oral tissues to monitor growth and development. Once the exam is over, the dental professional will gently clean the teeth, which includes polishing teeth and removing any plaque, tartar and stains. The dentist will give you tips for good oral hygiene practices for your child’s teeth and gums. At this time, the dentist can provide or recommend information on baby bottle tooth decay, infant feeding practices, teething, pacifier habits, and finger-sucking habits.

If you have dental anxieties, be careful not to relate those fears or dislikes to the child. If your child cries a little or wiggles during the exam, don’t worry. It’s normal, and your dental team understands this is a new experience for your child.

How can parents prepare their child for their first dental visit?

Start early! To get your child ready for the visit, talk to him or her about what’s going to happen and be positive. Have your child practice opening his or her mouth to get them ready for when the dentist counts and checks their teeth. Reading books or watching videos about first dental visits may help your child be less fearful and more confident. Explain why it is important to go to the dentist. Build excitement and understanding.

Moms and dads can prepare, too. When making the appointment, it can’t hurt to ask for any necessary patient forms ahead of time. It may be quicker and easier for you to fill them out at home instead of at the office on the day of your visit.

Make a list of questions as well. If your child is teething, sucking his or her thumb or using a pacifier too much, your dentist can offer some advice.

Tips for a great visit

Be sure to schedule all dentist appointments for times when your child will be comfortable and in a good mood. Don’t schedule an appointment during naptime. Instead, pick a time your child is usually well-rested and cooperative. Make sure your child has had a light meal and brushes their teeth before their appointment so they won’t be hungry during their visit.

Think of the appointment as a happy and fun experience. If your child becomes upset during the visit, work with your dentist to calm your child. You’re on the same team!


This article contains general information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or care by a qualified health care provider.