Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about children’s dental health.

When should I bring my child to the dentist for their first visit?

A child’s first visit should be soon after the primary (baby) teeth erupt.  This is an ideal time to visit with the dentist to discuss growth and development and to discuss healthy feeding and bottle use.  It is also great for the child to develop trust with the dentist and hygienist early so when it is time for regular visits the child is already used to everyone.  Most general dentists see children however, some parents choose to see a pediatric dentist especially to meet a special need.

When should I start oral hygiene for my child?

It is best to start oral hygiene as an infant.  Use a soft cloth or cotton gauze to wipe the gums after meals.  This is not only important for hygiene but also establishes a relationship with your child so they allow you to assist with their oral healthcare.  Once the teeth erupt, use a child sized soft bristle toothbrush with water. After age two, add a small dab of kid’s non-fluoridated toothpaste.  Change to kid’s toothpaste with fluoride when they can spit and not swallow the toothpaste.  Brush your child’s teeth until they can start doing it by themselves but follow up their brushing by assisting them with a more thorough brushing until they are fully capable.   When your child is old enough to brush on his/her own brush together!  Spend two minutes brushing and set a good example.

Is going to sleep with a bottle okay?

It is okay to go to sleep with a bottle, but only with water.  Never let your child go to sleep with a bottle filled with milk, formula, fruit juice, or sweetened liquids.  Get in this habit early because it is hard to change later.  Baby bottle tooth decay is the primary cause of tooth decay in young children and it is totally preventable.

When should my child stop using a pacifier?

Experts recommend that children stop using pacifiers after age 2, when it becomes more of a habit than a developmental need. Research shows that continued pacifier use, especially after age 2, often is associated with: increased risk of middle ear infection, improper growth of the mouth, misalignment of teeth, dental crossbite and/or open bite and/or development of a thumb-sucking habit.

Should my child have sealants?

Sealants are a great preventative for primary molars and for adult molars. A sealant is a thin plasticized material similar to composite resin white fillings and is placed by the dentist or hygienist on the biting surfaces of back teeth to help prevent tooth decay. 

When should my child visit the orthodontist?

Your dentist will recommend when to visit an orthodontist based on your child’s growth, development and medical history.  Some children may need to be seen by the orthodontist before the age of 7, due to growth and development issues of the jaws and the airway.  Orthodontic intervention will lead to healthy breathing throughout life.  Most orthodontic treatment for minor issues is done in the early teenage years.

When should my child have their third molars (wisdom teeth) evaluated?

A good time to have your child’s third molars evaluated is when your child is due for regular radiographs.  Your dentist may want to take a radiograph to assess growth and development of the jaws and teeth and check for any abnormalities like growths, tumors and cysts.  This x-ray will be taken in the early to mid-teenage years and will show where the wisdom teeth are in the jaw and if there is enough room for them to properly erupt.

Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, he is on the faculty of Spear Education, a member the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Dental Association.  Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA.