When should I bring in my child for their first dental visit?

The first visit should be after the baby teeth first begin to erupt. Establishing an early relationship with the dentist and dental hygienist in a friendly, pain free circumstance will alleviate a child’s anxiety in future visits. This is also an excellent time to discuss proper homecare, diet, bottle and pacifier use. It is also important to evaluate the teeth, habits, tonsils, nasal breathing, tongue and lips including the tongue and lip attachments (frenum) at a young age.

Can babies get cavities?

Decay in baby teeth is too common and totally preventable. The most common causes of baby tooth decay are poor diet, improper bottle use and poor homecare. Your baby’s diet is extremely important during this development time. The same foods that cause cavities in adults also cause cavities in baby teeth. Avoid sugary drinks and foods. A common mistake is fruit juice. Juice boxes provide almost no dietary benefit; they are mostly sugar water. When your child goes to bed the only liquid that should be in a bottle is water, no milk, formula, fruit juice or breast milk. Parents and caregivers can spread decay causing bacteria by putting the baby’s spoon or pacifier in their mouth and then back to the baby. As baby molars erupt, have your dentist place sealants in the hard to clean deep grooves to protect against decay. Healthy baby teeth are essential for the child to be able to chew properly and develop the jaw space for the adult teeth and proper breathing.
How should I clean my child’s teeth?

Even before teeth erupt, use a moistened washcloth or cotton gauze to wipe the gums after every meal. This establishes a routine that makes homecare easy as the teeth start to erupt. As teeth begin to erupt, switch to a soft infant toothbrush and use a grain of rice sized amount of fluoride toothpaste to brush their teeth until age 3. From age 3-6 use a soft child’s sized toothbrush with a pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. You should be doing the brushing for your child until they can manage good brushing on their own, usually by age 6-7. But continue to monitor and occasionally take over brushing to make sure they are doing a good job and that they are spitting out the toothpaste, not swallowing. When your child starts to brush their own teeth it is time to introduce floss. Establish good oral homecare habits and routines. Take care of oral homecare needs after meals, well before bedtime with no snacks in between. This will avoid bedtime struggles with a sleepy child and establish good habits.

When should we get rid of the bottle?

By age one most children should transition from a bottle and drink from a cup. When at home use a regular cup without a top or straw. In the car use a sippy cup to prevent accidents. This develops proper drinking and swallowing habits which aid in the growth and development of the jaws and airway.

When should we get rid of the pacifier?

Pacifiers are soothing for babies but after age 8-9 months babies can become attached and have some separation anxiety. It is best to end pacifier use by age 6-7 months. Continued use of a pacifier has been related to increased ear infections and abnormal jaw development which will effect breathing as well.

Your child’s first visits to the dental office are all about introductions, fun and education. Make it a good memory and continue at home with positive reinforcement during daily homecare routines.

Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, visiting faculty at Spear Education, alumnus of Pankey Institute, 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. www.MiddleburgSmiles.com.