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 or she gets his first tooth (and his or her gums even before teeth emerge).

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

Fluoridated Toothpaste

Unless directed by a dentist, fluoride toothpaste should not be used until a toddler is about two years old.??

There is some danger if your child ingests too much fluoride. Most brands of kids' toothpaste are fluoridated as adult toothpaste is—the brands just have flavors and popular characters that are appealing to children. However, that doesn't make it safe for your child to swallow a large amount of toothpaste.

Children two years and older can use a smear of toothpaste about the size of a grain of rice, and children three to six can use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste.??

Using small amounts means less danger of your child getting too much fluoride if it is swallowed. Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste.

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 one year of age.??

Unless a child has risk factors for dental problems (such as other family members with a lot of cavities, sleeping with a sippy cup or bottle, teeth staining, thumb sucking, and so on) parents may wait to take their child to see a dentist until they are three years or older.??

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations suggest that an earlier visit to the dentist is a good way to help toddlers learn proper oral hygiene, 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 sooner rather than later if your child has a medical condition that puts him or her at risk for dental problems, such as Down Syndrome.

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 or she 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 or she may not be getting enough fluoride to keep his or her teeth healthy. You may want to talk to your pediatrician or dentist about fluoride supplements.

Some types of water filters will remove fluoride.?? Countertop filters and 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.

Sealants

You can 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. After it hardens, it provides a barrier against plaque and other harmful substances.

Sealants can be applied to the first and second permanent molars to protect the grooves and pit, which can be hard to clean and are prone to developing cavities. Sealants can be applied to appropriate premolars as soon as possible after they erupt (usually after six years of age).??

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 eight to 10 years old.??

Habits for Healthy Teeth

In addition to teaching your children the importance of regular brushing and flossing, scheduling routine visits to the dentist, and promoting a healthy diet, it is important that you set a good example by practicing good dental hygiene yourself. 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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Article Sources
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  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Choosing Home Water Filters & Other Water Treatment Systems | Drinking Water | Healthy Water | CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases (DFWED). Updated June 2014.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dental Sealant FAQs. | School-based Dental Sealant Programs | Division Of Oral Health | CDC. Updated March 2019.

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