What All Mamas Want to Know About Children’s Dental Care

Hey Mama!

You wait for all the little firsts to happen.  First giggle, first word, first steps.  But when that first tooth comes in, it begins a lifelong journey of dental care. 

When it comes to children’s dental care, sometimes we can get a little overwhelmed and confused. It’s true that kids do not come with an instruction manual.  Luckily, we have Google.  But sometimes it’s hard to find what you need all in one place. 

I’ve rounded up answers to 25 common questions surrounding all things “children’s dental.”

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1. At what age do kids need to see the dentist?

It’s recommended that kids see the dentist within 6 months of getting their first tooth or at least by their first birthday.  After that, it is recommended that children see their dentist every 6 months.

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2. When do kids get their first tooth? 

There is no set date for baby teeth to come in, but most kids will get their first tooth sometime around 6 months of age.  As with all developmental milestones, this age can vary greatly.  My son got his first tooth at 12 weeks.

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3. Which primary teeth come in first?

Usually the bottom two front teeth will be the first to “erupt” through the gums.  Erupt is such a great term for some babies because it causes a chain reaction of volcanic proportions. 

The following chart can be used to see approximate ages when each tooth should come in. It also shows a cross-section of a tooth and the names of the types of teeth. 

Chart of baby teeth and permanent teeth with approximate eruption and loss ages
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4. What can I expect during teething?

Every child will have different experiences with teething.  Some may go through teething with no problems at all.  Some, like my children, will get ear infections and fevers with every new tooth.  

If your child is in pain (and you know what that sounds like), then you want nothing more than to make it stop.  

Check out this list of some teething hacks from Gentlenursery.com to try:

 

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5. At what age do kids start losing teeth?

Your child will lose their teeth on their own schedule, but may lose their first tooth around age 6.  See the above chart. 

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6. At what age should kids start brushing teeth?

It’s a good idea to start cleaning a baby’s gums even before they have teeth.  You don’t have to use toothpaste or a toothbrush.  Just take a soft wet washcloth and gently rub your baby’s gums. 

When your baby gets their first tooth, you can start using an extra soft toothbrush with toothpaste specially formulated for infants. You can also keep using a wet washcloth.

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7. When should kids start brushing their teeth on their own?

Around the age of 6, most kids can brush their own teeth.  It is still a good practice to observe your child to make sure they aren’t skipping any steps. 

I like to brush my son’s teeth every few days, just to make sure he’s hitting all the hard to reach spots. I will stop this soon, though, as he continues to get good reports from his dentist.  

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8. What are the steps to brushing teeth?

  1. Get the right toothbrush and toothpaste for your child’s age group.  See some good options below in #10. 
  2. Use a small amount of toothpaste. For kids under 3, use a spot the size of a grain of rice.  For kids 3-6, use a pea size amount.  Most dentists recommend not using toothpaste for children under 18 months. 
  3. Teach your kids to brush side-to-side, eventually learning to brush in a circle. Encourage the brushing of each surface of each tooth.  If you are doing the brushing, brush in circular motions on each side of each tooth. And don’t forget to brush the tongue!
  4. Spit but don’t rinse.  There is some debate over this one. Most people tell their kids to rinse with water after brushing.  But many dentists say not to rinse so that the fluoride in the toothpaste stays on the teeth longer. Again, even among dentists and scientists, there is some debate.  My son doesn’t like to rinse. Do what you feel is best for your child or what your dentist says. 
  5. You can introduce flossing as soon as your child has teeth that are close together. We like to use these flossers to help with this.  
  6. After brushing, avoid drinking (except water) or eating, especially at bedtime.  The more food or sugars from liquids that are left on the teeth, the more opportunity for bacteria to cause more damage. 
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9. Why do toddlers hate brushing their teeth?

There could be many answers to this question.  Here are some common answers: (please check with your dentist if the problem persists)

  1. It hurts.  They could have teeth sensitivity or pain (which could be associated with cavities). 
  2. Is the toothbrush too firm? Try a softer toothbrush.
  3. The toothpaste doesn’t taste good. This is trial and error for most kids to find one they will tolerate. See our favorite below in #10.
  4. They are toddlers.  Yes, I know this isn’t a helpful answer.  However, most toddlers are learning to test boundaries and exert their independence. Which leads us to our next question. 
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10. How do I get my stubborn child to brush their teeth?

You know the scenario:

Mom: “It’s time to brush your teeth!”

Child: “NO!”

There may be some kicking and screaming and crying and flailing involved as well.  

So, how can you get your kids to brush their teeth with minimal drama?

  1. Make it a game: download the Brush Away the Bacteria game below and make it fun to get rid of those germs!
  2. Use a reward chart (Here’s a really cute one!)
  3. Make it a part of the routine: Do you have a set routine?  We do. It’s bath, supper, play, snack, brush teeth, read, bed. It’s almost automatic once you get into a good routine. 
  4. Get a fun toothbrush: The Colgate Hum toothbrush does it all and comes with an app!  For younger children, you may want to start with a more gentle brush like the Fridababy Grow-with-me training toothbrush.
  5. Get toothpaste that tastes good: My son will only use Crest Sparkle Fun.  If you child is younger, you may want to start with a toothpaste designed for younger children like Tom’s of Maine Toddler Training Toothpaste

    While we are looking at toothpaste and toothbrushes, I thought it would be a great time to share the P&G Good Everyday Rewards Program.  You don’t want to miss signing up for this one!  Here it is in a nutshell: P&G Good Everyday is a Rewards Program for your favorite brands, like Tide, Crest, Dawn Bounty and 60 more.  Earn up to $150 + in rewards annually for brands you already use and love.  Enter for chances to win Free P&G Products.  And, P&G Donates to Charity on your behalf.  More participation = More Rewards and More Donations.  Why not make some free money on stuff you already buy?!

  6. Use a timer: This Toothbrushing Two Minute Turtle Timer not only lets your child know how long to brush, but also reminds them to switch from quadrant to quadrant in their mouth! 
  7. Use a toothbrushing app.  Accesshealthdental.com shares a list of 8 apps to choose from. 
  8. Sing a song.  Our 15 year old daughter loved “Brush Your Teeth” by Raffi, so it was only natural for us to continue singing this song when our son came along. 
  9. Use a baby doll. You can use a doll or stuffed animal that you already have and let your child “brush” its teeth.  Or, you could go all out and get this Tooth Brushing Buddy Dog Plush.

Hopefully, you’ve found a helpful tip to try to help your child brush without the meltdowns!

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11. Why does my child gag while brushing their teeth?

We have a gag reflex that is triggered when our brain thinks we are about to swallow something we shouldn’t.

This Healthline article explains this reflex very well. 

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12. What about the tooth fairy?

The tooth fairy is definitely a personal preference.  Some think the tooth fairy can help kids feel a little less scared about their teeth falling out. Not everyone agrees.  I say, you do you.  But don’t be surprised if you find your kid asking Siri for the tooth fairy’s address. 🙂 

Want some adorable Tooth Fairy Stationery to use?  Check out my Printables Shop.

4 pages of lined stationery with tooth fairies and teeth in pastel colors

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13. When do I need to take my child to an emergency pediatric dentist?

Tooth injuries can be traumatic for both the child and the parent. However, not every injury warrants a trip to the emergency pediatric dentist. 

Here is a list from BrentwoodPediatricDenstistry.com of common dental emergencies

 

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14. Are there special needs pediatric dentists?

The short answer, yes.  Are all dentists trained to work with ALL children?  If not, they should be (in my opinion). 

Here is a great infographic from InsureKidsNow.gov explaining some extra supports you can ask about for your child.  It also explains how to use their dentist locator to find a dentist who can accommodate children with disabilities or developmental delays.   

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15. Do you celebrate visits with no cavities? 

After a successful visit to the dentist, do you give rewards?

You may or may not agree with giving prizes for every little thing, and I completely understand.  But we’ve made it our special tradition to swing by Target on the way home from a successful dentist visit when we have no cavities.  (We usually do not go to this side of town, so it is a special occurrence for us.)

The Dollar Spot is perfect for special treats. 

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16. What is a cavity?

A cavity is a hole in a tooth caused by tooth decay.  Bacteria that live in your mouth break down the sugars in your food and drinks.  They release an acid as a by-product that destroys the enamel on your teeth.  This causes the tooth to weaken and eventually a hole to form.  

Some signs to look for include discoloration, a hole in the tooth, or increased sensitivity to sweet or cold foods and drinks. 

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17. Will the dentist use numbing medicine for fillings in baby teeth?

Usually a dentist will apply a numbing gel on the gum and inject numbing medication, just like in adults.  

It may be a good idea to bring a distraction.  

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18. What can you expect when getting cavities filled in your child’s tooth?

Just like with adult teeth, a dentist will clean the tooth, remove the decay, fill the cavity, and adhere it to the tooth. 

If the cavity is severe enough, a crown may be required.  A dentist will numb the area, remove the decay, shape the tooth, and adhere the crown.

Many times a less expensive metal will be used for a crown on a baby tooth.  These will look like silver teeth.  They will fall out eventually. 

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19. What about sedation dentistry in children, like laughing gas?

Is it safe to use laughing gas in children?

Laughing gas is safe for children and can greatly reduce anxiety over going to the dentist.  

 

–My story–My daughter had two small cavities that had to be filled.  They tried to use the laughing gas and she did not like it at all.  On the other hand, I will not even get in the chair without my “Mickey Mouse” nose (as my pediatric dentist so lovingly called it)!

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20. What is the cost of laughing gas?

Some insurance companies will cover the cost of laughing gas and some will not.  You will need to check your plan to see what is covered.  So, the answer to this is, it varies.  My dental insurance covers the cost, but I have had to pay $40 before. 

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21. Are cavities hereditary?

Cavities are caused by bacteria feeding on the sugars in your mouth.  They produce an acid as a by-product that wears away your enamel and causes the cavity.  

Your genes control things like enamel strength, teeth shape and spacing, and saliva. These can play a role in how susceptible your teeth are to cavities.  

However, it is the environmental conditions (including poor oral hygiene and diet) that allow bacteria to cause cavities. Keeping the mouth clean is the #1 defense against cavities. 

 

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22. How do you know there are cavities in baby teeth?

Sometimes there are no signs of a cavity and they are only found on x-rays.  This is another reason why going to the dentist every 6 months is so important.  Some cavities can be caught before they become problematic. 

Sometimes your child will complain of pain or sensitivity, especially when eating or drinking cold stuff.  This may be a sign of a cavity. 

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23. Do cavities cause headaches?

 Usually small cavities do not cause headaches.  However, if there is a significant cavity, headaches can be triggered. 

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24. Do cavities in baby teeth need to be filled?

It depends.  You’ll see different opinions, but for the most part, pediatric dentists agree. If the cavity is new and is very small, making changes in dental care and diet can allow the cavity to “self-heal” through remineralization. 

If the cavity is in a tooth that is close to falling out, then the dentist may not want to fill the cavity. 

Cavities definitely need to be filled otherwise.  

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25. Do cavities in baby teeth affect permanent teeth?

Decay in baby teeth can damage the permanent teeth that are developing in the gums below. 

Cavities are caused by bacteria.  Bacteria can spread to other teeth.

Cavities can cause tooth sensitivity or pain when eating or drinking.  

Children may also be self-conscious if the cavities cause the teeth to appear dark or discolored. 

Baby teeth are placeholders.  If they fall out or have to be removed due to cavities, then it could cause misplacement of the incoming teeth.  

BONUS #26. Want to talk about braces?

Oh the joy of braces.  This deserves it’s own post (coming soon). 

Your child’s dentist may suggest seeing an orthodontist at a very early age.  This doesn’t mean that they will be getting braces soon.  An orthodontist can keep a watch on the movement and spacing of teeth to correct any problems early.  

Final Thoughts

You may feel like baby teeth aren’t that important since they are temporary, but good oral care sets children up for a healthy smile throughout life.  More importantly, teaching kids how to take care of their teeth early on will get them into a healthy habit of dental care. 

What other questions do you have?  Leave them in the comments below 🙂

Don’t forget to get your copy of the Brush Away the Bacteria game!

14 Comments

  1. Kae

    Very insightful real!

    Reply
  2. Amanda

    I was terrified and ashamed to find out that my daughter had cavities. I felt like I failed her somehow. Dental problems happen. We found a great pediatric dentist who fixed her right up! I highly recommend one over a regular family dentist. The environment made all the difference.

    Reply
    • Lifebetweenthedishes

      We love our pediatric dentist. It’s hard not to feel guilty, but you said it “dental problems happen!”

      Reply
  3. W. Santiago | Literal Med

    Excellent! I loved the bacteria game. Having good oral hygiene not only helps your teeth but also your general health. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Lifebetweenthedishes

      Thanks! You’re so right: Dental health IS important to overall health 🙂

      Reply
  4. Sally

    This is such a helpful post! My now 23 month old cut his first tooth (actually two came in together) right before he turned 4 months! Teething can be a whirlwind, but you’ve given caregivers some great info with this! Thanks.

    Reply
    • Lifebetweenthedishes

      Glad you found it helpful! Teething can definitely be a whirlwind 🙂

      Reply
  5. Jodie the Mom

    There are so many unknowns with kids. This is a great list of information.

    Reply
    • Lifebetweenthedishes

      You are so right! They are all unique and have different experiences 🙂

      Reply
  6. Christine

    Really good information here! So important to keep up on your kids dental health since it effects so many other parts of the body

    Reply
    • Lifebetweenthedishes

      Yes! I did not even get into the connection between dental health and heart health! Thanks 🙂

      Reply
  7. Cristina

    What a useful article! My daughter is 8 months and we are expecting the first little teeth. My son is 4 and I’ve just noticed something that looks like a cavity so we need to take a trip to the dentist. Hopefully, it will go well.

    Reply
    • Lifebetweenthedishes

      Thanks 🙂 I hope all does go well with your son, and I hope your daughter doesn’t have any teething troubles!

      Reply

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Hi! I'm Misty, the imperfect Mama behind Life Between the Dishes.  My goal is for you to find tools, tips, and resources here to help you maintain sanity through daily mom life!

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