Basic Guide to Children’s Dental Health

Brushing and Flossing a Child’s Teeth

Start caring for your child’s teeth as soon as you see the first baby (primary) tooth. Some tips on dental care for a child include:

  • Clean your baby’s first teeth with a clean piece of gauze, a terry cloth washcloth, or a soft-bristled baby toothbrush at least once a day. You may use one of the commercial “baby toothpastes” available for infants who are at least 5 months old.
  • Clean your child’s teeth before bedtime.
  • When using toothpaste, use only a small amount (a smear). Keep these products out of your child’s reach, as they can become ill if they ingest a large amount.  Normal amounts of fluoride added to public water supplies are safe for children and adults.   Flouride supplements may need to be considered if water is lacking fluoride.
  • Your child can learn how to brush his or her own teeth at about 3 years of age and should be brushing his or her own teeth morning and night by age 5-6, although parents should supervise and check for proper cleaning.  If child is not able to do effectively, the parents should brush.
  • Studies show that children between 6 and 9 years of age who brush with fluoride toothpaste have 24% less tooth decay and tooth-surface damage than might be expected if non-fluoride toothpaste is used.1
  • Flossing is an important part of good dental health. Start flossing your child’s teeth when he or she has teeth that touch each other. Talk with your dentist about the right timing and technique to floss your child’s teeth and to teach your child to floss.  Handheld flossers can be helpful.
  • From time to time, you may want to use disclosing tablets. Disclosing tablets are chewable tablets that color any plaque that remains after brushing. You can get these tablets at most drugstores.

Dental appointments

Visit us at least once every 6 months. Consistent dental appointments are of benefit to not only check the health of the baby teeth, which are very important for nutrition, overall health, and guiding permanent tooth eruption, but also to check on the developing permanent teeth, eruptions, gum health, etc.  Problems found early are almost always easier to treat and correct, which makes appointments for the child and the parent much less stressful.

Smart Eating Habits for Kids

Daily Diet

Although tooth decay has declined, it remains a problem for children, teens and adults alike. That’s because plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, constantly forms on our teeth. When we eat foods or drink beverages that contain sugar or starch, the bacteria produce acids that attack tooth enamel. The stickiness of plaque keeps the harmful acids against the teeth, which contribute to tooth decay.

Harmful Eating Habits

Some eating habits can wreak havoc on your body and your teeth.  Frequent snacking can greatly increase your chances for tooth decay, and the type of foods you eat can lead to other health problems, namely childhood (and adult) obesity.  Sipping soda and frequent nibbling on snack foods increases the rate of harmful acid attacks on tooth enamel. And repeated binge eating—impulsive gorging or continuous eating—can do the same. 

Baby Bottle tooth decay

One common way babies and children can develop cavities is called “baby bottle tooth decay”.  It occurs when a child’s teeth are frequently exposed to sugary liquids for long periods.  Among these are milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juice, and other sweetened liquids.  Never use the feeding bottle as a pacifier.  If you must give your child a bottle at bedtime or naptime, fill it with plain water.  Do not dip a pacifier in any thing sweet, like honey or sugar.  Always see a dentist if you think a problem is occurring.

White Spots/Discolorations

At times, the enamel of the teeth can have an abnormal appearance or color.  Sometimes these colorations are normal and will disappear with time, others are due to conditions such as flourosis, hypomineralization (cavities in the enamel due to poor oral hygiene, commonly related to braces), and hypoplasia.  Environmental factors are a significant contributor to these “white” or “brown” spots, things such as plaque accumulation, high fevers in infancy, associated metabolic stressors, levels of minerals (such as fluoride) ingested during development.

Prevention of white spots is the best treatment, especially in the case of oral hygiene and braces.  White spots can be treated with topical medicines that rebuild the mineral structure of the enamel surface, making it more normal and therefore improving the normal appearance of the tooth.  These medicines are slow to improve the appearance, but strengthen the tooth significantly.  For heavy discolorations, microabrasion can be used.  Improvement may take months, since it took months for the teeth to develop the condition.  In adulthood, discolorations can be masked with other procedures, but those are not typically recommended for children’s teeth.

Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth, otherwise known as third molars, are the last set of teeth to develop. Sometimes these teeth emerge from the gum line and the jaw is large enough to allow room for them, but most of the time, this is not the case. More often, one or more of these third molars fails to emerge in proper alignment or fails to fully emerge through the gum line and becomes entrapped or “impacted” between the jawbone and the gum tissue. Impacted wisdom teeth can result in swelling, pain, and infection of the gum tissue surrounding the wisdom teeth. In addition, impacted wisdom teeth can cause permanent damage to nearby teeth, gums, and bone and can rarely lead to the formation of cysts or tumors that can destroy sections of the jaw. Therefore, dentists recommend people with impacted wisdom teeth have them surgically removed.


Malocclusion essentially means “bad bite”.  It is the term used for teeth that are crooked and/or crowded upon eruption into the mouth.  Most people will have some sort of malocclusion and the problems that can be associated with it.  However, many cases are not severe enough to cause significant health problems, therefore most malocclusions are treated due to cosmetic concerns.  It is true that malocclusion is most easily treated in late childhood/early adulthood, so parents will typically address these concerns at that time.  Braces are used to correct malocclusion.  Malocclusion can be later treated in adulthood as well.

Mouth Guards

Mouth guards are coverings worn over teeth, and often used to protect teeth from injury from teeth grinding and during sports.  They are helpful in some instances to alleviate soreness associated with the jaw joint and muscles.

There are three types of mouth guards:

Stock mouth protectors are preformed and come ready to wear. They are inexpensive and can be bought at most sporting good stores and department stores. However, little can be done to adjust their fit, they are bulky and make breathing and talking difficult. 

Boil and bite mouth protectors also can be bought at many sporting goods stores and may offer a better fit than stock mouth protectors. The “boil and bite” mouth guard is made from thermoplastic material. It is placed in hot water to soften, then placed in the mouth and shaped around the teeth using finger and tongue pressure.

Custom-fitted mouth protectors are individually designed and made in a dental office or a professional laboratory based on your dentist’s instructions. First, your dentist will make an impression of your teeth and a mouth guard is then molded over the model using a special material. Because of the extra time and work involved and materials used, this custom-made mouth guard is more expensive than the other types, but it provides the most comfort and best fit and protection.

Generally, mouth guards cover your upper teeth only, but in some instances (such as if you wear braces or another fixed dental appliance on your lower jaw), your dentist will make a mouth guard for the lower teeth as well. Your dentist can suggest the best mouth guard for you.

If you grind your teeth at night, a special mouth guard-type of dental appliance – called a nocturnal bite plate or bite splint — may be created to prevent tooth damage or help with problems associated with the jaw joint.

Who Needs a Mouth Guard?

Mouth guards should be used by anyone – both children and adults – who play contact sports such as football, boxing, soccer, ice hockey, basketball, lacrosse, and field hockey. However, even those participating in noncontact sports (for example, gymnastics) and any recreational activity (for example, skateboarding, mountain biking) that might pose a risk of injury to the mouth would benefit from wearing a protective mouth guard.