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Dental Care for Babies and Children

When should dental care begin?

Most pediatric dentists will agree that regular dental care should begin by 1 year of age, with a dental check-up at least twice each year for most children. Some children may need check-ups more often. This dental checklist for infants and toddlers is from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD):

Birth to 6 months old

  • Clean your baby's mouth after feedings and at bedtime. Use water and a cloth or gauze, or use a soft infant toothbrush.

  • Talk with your child's healthcare provider about using fluoride supplements, if you live in an area without fluoridated water.

  • Also ask about fluoride varnish that can be applied to the teeth.

  • Create regular feeding habits (bottle feeding and breastfeeding).

6 to 12 months old

  • During this time, the first tooth should appear. Contact the pediatric dentist for an exam as soon as the first tooth comes in, but no later than your child's first birthday.

  • Brush teeth after each feeding and at bedtime with a small, soft-bristled brush. Use a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice.

  • As your child starts to walk, stay alert for possible dental or facial injuries.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics advises breastmilk for at least 6 months. The AAPD advises breastfeeding for at least 1 year. At about 1 year old, continue to breastfeed or begin weaning as you and your baby are ready. But also start giving your baby whole milk. The fat in whole milk is needed for brain development.

1 to 3 years old

  • Follow the schedule of dental exams and cleanings, as advised by your child's pediatric dentist. Generally, dental exams and cleanings are advised every 6 months for children and adults.

  • At about age 3, as your child learns to rinse and spit, brushing with a pea-sized portion of fluoridated toothpaste is best.

  • Make the experience enjoyable for your child by using games or songs. This can help make the twice-daily activity pleasant for both of you

Facts about baby teeth

Young girl holding a tooth in her palm

Correct care of a child's baby teeth (primary teeth) is very important. These teeth hold space for the future adult (permanent) teeth.

  • If a baby's tooth decays, or is removed too early, the space for the permanent teeth is lost. It can only be regained through orthodontic treatment.

  • Infected baby teeth can cause the permanent teeth to develop incorrectly. This can lead to stains, pits, and weaker teeth.

  • Baby teeth are important in speech development.

  • Baby teeth aid in chewing food correctly, promoting healthy nutrition.

Most children begin losing their baby teeth around age 5 or 6. Children often lose the front teeth first. They continue to lose baby teeth until age 12 or 13. This is when all of the permanent teeth finally come through, except for the third molars (wisdom teeth). These molars begin to appear around age 17 to 21.

Diet and dental care for children

The AAPD advises the following to be sure your child eats correctly to maintain a healthy body and teeth:

  • Ask your pediatric dentist to help you assess your child's diet.

  • Shop smart. Don't normally stock your pantry with sugary or starchy snacks. Buy "fun foods" just for special times.

  • Limit the number of snack times. Choose healthy snacks.

  • Be a role model for your child. Eat healthy foods and limit sugary drinks and snacks.

  • Provide a balanced diet, and save foods with sugar or starch for mealtimes.

  • Don't put your young child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice.

  • If your child chews gum or sips soda, choose those without sugar.

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Kapner MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2020
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