As a “Mommy Dentist”, I often get asked by parents, “When should I begin to bring my child to the Dentist?” My quick response to them is, “When they have teeth!” My recommendation, as well as The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s, is that a child should have their first dental exam by their 1st birthday! These first appointments are often a great resource for parent education, early screening, and the start of building a healthy relationship between the child, parents, and dentist.
As a dentist and fellow mom who constantly fights with her toddlers to brush their teeth, here is a guide to help you navigate your child’s constantly changing mouth.
Birth – 2 Years
The average age of a baby’s first tooth is 6 months old. However, for some babies it is much earlier, while others don’t see their first tooth until after their 1st birthday! Like other milestones, there is a wide range of normal. The important thing to know is what to do when that first tooth arrives and how to keep your baby comfortable as their teeth come in!
- TEETHING! As your baby’s teeth begin to erupt it can be very uncomfortable. Cool, clean washcloths and firm rubber teething rings can be a great comfort. It is not recommended to give your baby any topical pain relievers as they can be swallowed and have unwanted side effects.
- HOMECARE! Before teeth erupt, a clean, warm washcloth can be used to cleanse your baby’s mouth. As teeth erupt it will be time for the baby’s first toothbrush. Their first toothbrush should be age appropriate, small, and extra soft. As for toothpaste, I recommend consulting with your dentist for their fluoride recommendation.
- NIGHTTIME! If you place your baby or child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup, ensure that it does not contain milk, juice, or any other sugary liquid. Exposure to sugar at night-time is a big risk-factor for Early Child Caries (ECC). ECC is a condition when children under 2 years old develop several cavities.
- 1st DENTAL VISIT! As stated above, the AAPD’s recommendation is that your child has their first dental visit by age 1. Following their first visit they should return every 6 months for their check-up.
2 – 5 Years Old
By age 3, your child will have all their primary teeth – 20 teeth total!
- BRUSHING! Remember to continue to help your child brush their teeth two times per day using children’s fluoride toothpaste. I recommend a child’s power-brush. I find these very effective to clean the grooves on my kids’ back teeth.
- FLOSSING! Some children have spacing between their teeth while others do not. Flossing is recommended once your child’s teeth begin to touch. Children without spacing are more prone to getting cavities between their teeth.
- SUGAR! Although difficult, it’s best to avoid juices, sugary drinks, and sugary snacks. Sticky sugars like fruit snacks and lollipops tend to be the worst. To reduce your child’s risk, try to limit the number of exposures during the day. The AAPD recommends no more than 3 exposures per day.
- HABITS! This is an active time of growth for your child. Habits such as thumb-sucking and pacifier use should be stopped or in the process of stopping. If not, your child is at risk for some developmental changes that may require more extensive orthodontic intervention (braces). Work with your dentist or fellow mom’s for ideas if your child is having trouble breaking their habit.
- DENTAL VISITS! Remember to continue to take your child every 6 months for their regular check-up. These appointments are great to help establish a feeling of comfort at the dentist.
Age 6 & Up
Around age 6 your child will get their first wiggly tooth. Typically, the first teeth lost are the lower front incisors and this means the first Tooth Fairy visit. Check out this fun note your child can fill out to to leave with their tooth for the Tooth Fairy.
- SEALANTS! In addition to wiggly teeth your child may complain of some discomfort in the back of their mouth. Around age 6 we will see the eruption of the permanent first molars. These teeth are at the highest risk for future cavities due to deep grooves and difficult access to clean. Consult with your dentist to determine if a preventative sealant is recommended.
- BRUSHING AND FLOSSING! Your child will typically need help brushing and flossing until the age of 8. They should be brushing two times per day for two minutes and flossing daily. For the best clean invest in an electric toothbrush. Newer versions have fun timers and even games that can help make your child excited about cleaning their teeth!
- SUGAR! As our children grow, they have more exposure to sugary beverages and sports drinks. Work with your child to form good habits and limit the number of exposures to sugar.
- BRACES! Your dentist will be evaluating for future orthodontic needs as early as age 6. Depending on their needs, some children may benefit from growth appliances or braces earlier. If no early intervention is recommended, your child will be evaluated around the ages of 10-12 for braces.
- MOUTHGUARDS! As your child begins to participate in contact sports and physical activities a mouthguard is recommended to help protect the teeth and soft tissue of the mouth.
- DENTAL VISITS: Routine visits at this age are critical as your child transitions from their primary to permanent teeth.
As February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, I hope this timeline can aid in your family’s dental care. As a mom and a dentist, believe me when I say you are not alone fighting to brush your kid’s teeth, yelling at grandparents for bringing candy, and wanting to give a pacifier to your screaming toddler. Trust me I have been there! The key is working with your dentist on recognizing risk factors and establishing a plan to ensure your child has a healthy growing mouth. Check out this great resource for more information.