“How Can I Protect My Child’s Tooth Enamel?” and Other Pediatric Dentistry Questions Answered

patient in chair

Help your child build strong teeth and healthy habits.

In their first few years of life, your child’s mouth undergoes a lot of changes, sprouting a full set of 20 baby teeth by the time they’re three years old before beginning to lose those teeth as their jaw grows, just three or four years later. Keeping up with your child’s oral health is vital, so your little one can grow strong, healthy adult teeth and build great oral hygiene habits they’ll carry with them throughout their adult life. But it can seem overwhelming. Here are the answers to a few common pediatric dentistry questions we hope can help clear up a little of your confusion.

How can I protect my child’s tooth enamel?

There are several steps you can take to protect your child’s enamel. Oral hygiene is an obvious but vital piece of the puzzle, but it’s equally as important for you as it is for your child. Cavity-causing bacteria can spread from person to person; sharing a spoon with your child can increase their likelihood of getting cavities if your teeth and gums aren’t healthy. So practice what you preach; don’t skip brushing or flossing your own teeth and make sure you go to the dentist regularly!

You should also give your child fruits and vegetables as snacks instead of sugary or carbohydrate-rich foods. The vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables are essential for growing strong, healthy teeth—and growing up strong in general! Balance out your little one’s diet with healthy portions of grains, dairy, and lean proteins for healthy teeth. Additionally, giving your child water to drink between meals and at night helps flush food debris from their mouth and returns its acidity level to normal. In contrast, drinking sugary beverages throughout the day prevents the pH level of your child’s mouth from recovering between meals and puts their enamel under constant attack throughout the day.

How can I ease my baby’s teething pain?

One great way to ease your baby’s teething pain is to provide them with something cool—not frozen—to put on their gums, like a chilled spoon, teething ring, or damp rag. You can also massage your baby’s gums with a clean finger or wet cloth or discuss using infants’ versions of over-the-counter pain medications with your pediatrician. We recommend avoiding topical gels, as your teething baby will likely drool enough to wash the gels away before they can do much good. Avoid teething necklaces or bracelets, as these are considered choking hazards, as well as medications that contain benzocaine or lidocaine, as they can be harmful or even fatal to your baby.

How should I clean my baby’s mouth?

Before your baby gets their first teeth, you should keep their gums healthy by gently wiping them clean with a damp washcloth or gauze each day. Once your baby’s teeth begin coming in, gently brush them twice a day with a soft-bristled baby toothbrush. At first, use toothpaste about equal in size to a grain of rice; you can increase this amount as they get older, graduating to a pea-sized amount when they’re around three years old. You should also begin flossing your child’s teeth as soon as they begin to grow close enough together.

When should my child have their first dental appointment?

Your child should have their first pediatric dentistry appointment shortly after they get their first tooth, usually when they’re around six months old, and no later than their first birthday. The appointment will aim to check the health and development of your child’s teeth, gums, and jaws, get them used to the dentist, and answer any of your questions.

How can I prepare my child for their first dental appointment?

If you act like the pediatric dentistry appointment will be scary, your child will respond in a more fearful way. So prepare your little one for their first dental appointment by reading books or playing fun games about the dentist. Tell them what they can expect from the pediatric dentistry appointment, but do your best to make it sound like a positive experience!

What are common sources of fluoride, and how do I know if my child is getting enough?

In the U.S., nearly 73% of the population has access to fluoridated community water systems, making this a major source of fluoride for you and your family. If you’re not sure if your water is fluoridated, talk to your dentist about the area in which you live. If you are getting your water from a private well, fluoridated toothpaste and fluoride treatments, which are applied at your local dental office, are also common sources of the mineral that your dentist will recommend.

Is using a pacifier or sucking on their thumb really harmful for my child’s teeth?

Sucking on a pacifier or thumb is a natural self-soothing impulse in young children, but it can be harmful to their teeth if the habit continues past a certain age. This is because it can cause the front baby teeth to angle outward as they come in. Generally, children will stop this habit on their own between the ages of two and four, but some children need a little encouragement to do so. If your child is struggling to drop the habit and you’ve noticed changes in their baby teeth, you may need to contact their dentist.

What’s considered a dental emergency?

A dental emergency generally involves a major injury that requires immediate dental care, like a tooth that has been broken, cracked, or knocked out. Additionally, while minor toothaches can wait a day or two to be seen by your dentist, toothaches that are causing your child major pain are considered dental emergencies. If you’re faced with one of these situations, call us right away to get an appointment as soon as possible.

Safeguarding your child’s oral health and helping them build healthy habits can be a lot of work, but it has clear benefits. In addition to saving you money by preventing you from needing as many dental visits to treat cavities or gum disease, your whole family will build tooth-healthy habits, which can help your child stay healthier for their entire life.