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Dental FAQ

Get answers to all of your pressing questions about pediatric dentistry and caring for kids’ teeth.

When should my child have their first dental exam?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child is seen by a dentist six months after their first tooth erupts or age 1, whichever is first. We make these early visits fun and engaging.

How is a pediatric dentist different from a regular dentist?

All dental specialists (pediatric dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, etc.) complete dental school, then continue their education with several years of specialized training in a residency program. It’s during this specialty training that a pediatric dentist gains extensive knowledge and experience in treating infants, children, and adolescents, including those with special needs. They also become experts in child development and behavior.

Pediatric dentists are the pediatricians of the dental world. They focus solely on treating pediatric patients and they love working with children. A specialist like Dr. Hayes knows exactly how to put kids at ease and help them get the care they need in the safest, most effective way possible.

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

The best way to prepare your child for a visit to our office is to maintain a positive attitude about going to the dentist yourself and avoid using scary terms like “drill” or “shot.” If you show signs of fear or apprehension about visiting the dentist, it is likely your child will pick up on this and begin to fear the dentist themselves.

Your pediatric dentist is specifically trained to handle fear and anxiety in children, and our team is trained in helping kids relax at visits. We also know how to talk to little ones and explain dentistry in a fun, non-threatening way. So, while you don’t want to surprise your child with a dentist visit, you can keep the explanation simple, saying something like, “We’re going to visit the friendly tooth doctor tomorrow and they’re going to count your teeth.” Our team will do the rest!

How often should my child visit the dentist?

We recommend scheduling check-ups and cleanings every six months. While more frequent visits could be needed depending on the circumstances of your child’s oral health, most kids do great with two exams per year.

The baby teeth are going to fall out anyway; why do they need special care?

Even though baby teeth are not permanent, they’re important for the development of your child’s oral health and smile. While they’re in place, primary teeth help your child chew and speak and play a role in their self-esteem.

They also maintain room in the jaw for permanent teeth. If a child loses a baby tooth too early due to damage or decay, nearby teeth often drift into that space, causing crooked or misaligned permanent teeth. Additionally, a child’s general health is affected by their oral health, so it’s important to keep their teeth and gums in top-notch shape.

What’s the best way to clean my baby’s teeth?

Even before your baby’s first tooth erupts, we recommend wiping down their gums after feedings with a damp, soft washcloth. As soon as the first tooth makes its debut, you can start using a toothbrush. Choose a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head designed for infants. Gently brush their teeth (or tooth) in the morning and before bed.

When should I start using toothpaste/fluoride toothpaste on my child’s teeth?

Once your child has a few teeth, you can start using toothpaste when brushing. For infants and young toddlers, use a fluoride-free toothpaste, because too much fluoride can be dangerous for young children and cause their teeth to stain. Have your child rinse and spit out the toothpaste after brushing to get them into the habit before they graduate to fluoride toothpaste.

At age 2, you can begin using a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste (no more than the size of a grain of rice) twice a day. You can then increase to a pea-sized amount from ages 2 to 6. Again, ensure they continue to rinse their mouth and spit out the toothpaste after brushing. You should brush your child’s teeth for them or supervise and follow up if needed until they’re ready to do it on their own, which usually happens around age 6 or 7.

When should I start flossing my child’s teeth?

You can start flossing your child’s teeth as soon as any two teeth are touching. Floss at least once daily. Most kids will need assistance with flossing until around age 8.

When should a baby stop using a pacifier?

Using a pacifier in infancy is perfectly fine. Most kids stop on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. The most severe orthodontic problems tend to occur in cases where the habit continues after the permanent teeth erupt. Aggressive pacifier sucking may lead to consequences earlier, however. We’d recommend beginning the process of weaning your child off the pacifier around age 2. If you have difficulty breaking the habit or you’re worried it’s causing dental problems, let us know and our team can help.

When should I transition my child from the bottle?

Prolonged bottle use is tied to baby bottle tooth decay, or early childhood caries, malocclusion (improper bite), speech delays and skipped meals. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends offering your child a cup for the first time around 6 months of age and then slowly reducing the number of bottle feedings, completing the transition between 12 and 18 months.

When should a child stop thumb sucking?

The large majority of children suck their thumbs or fingers as infants. It’s completely natural. Most grow out of it by the age of 4 without causing any permanent damage to their teeth.

If you child continues sucking after the permanent teeth erupt or sucks aggressively (you might hear a popping noise when they take their thumb out of their mouth), it can cause changes in their palate, teeth and bite, leading to issues, such as a crossbite, protruding front teeth or an open bite.

To err on the side of caution, we’d recommend starting to encourage your child to break the habit around age 2 or 3. If it continues past the age of 4, intervention might be needed. In any case, let us know your child sucks their thumb and we can check to see if any problems are likely to arise from the habit.

What is a lip tie and tongue tie?

Both lip ties and tongue ties make it difficult for a baby to suck efficiently, which can impact their ability to breast or bottle feed and thrive. If not treated, the issues can also lead to incorrect functional habits, including reverse swallowing patterns, that impact jaw growth and development and cause speech problems.

A lip tie is when the tissue behind the upper lip, called the frenulum, is too stiff or thick. This interferes with the ability of the upper lip to move freely. A tongue tie is when the band of tissue that attaches from the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth, called the labial frenulum, is too short, tight or thick. With a tongue tie, the movement of the tongue is impeded.

While it’s recommended that a baby have their first dental visit at age 1, if you notice signs of a lip tie or tongue tie, such as a poor latch, loss of suction while breast or bottle feeding, colic, reflux, poor weight gain or restricted lip or tongue movement, schedule a visit earlier. If we do diagnose your child with a lip tie, tongue tie or both, our pediatric dentist can perform a quick and easy procedure, known as a laser frenectomy.

What causes cavities?

Certain types of bacteria live in our mouths. They feed on the sugars and starches from the food we eat, producing acids as a byproduct. These acids attack the enamel (the hard outer layer of the teeth), eventually eating through the enamel and creating holes in the teeth, which we call cavities.

How can I help my child prevent cavities?

Have your child brush their twice a day and floss once daily. Flossing reaches spots between the teeth that a toothbrush cannot. If you only drink bottled water or do not have fluoride in your tap water, check with your pediatric dentist about a fluoride supplement, which helps make tooth enamel harder and more resistant to decay.

Minimize the amount of sugary foods and drinks kids have and limit snacking. Encourage a healthy, well-rounded diet that includes smile-friendly foods like fresh, firm fruit, vegetables, milk, yogurt, nuts and cheese. Lastly, schedule a dental cleaning and exam for your child at San Diego Smile Pros every six months.

Does my child need dental sealants?

We absolutely recommend dental sealants. Sealants cover the pits and fissures found on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth that are difficult to effectively clean and, therefore, susceptible to decay. Dental sealants are a safe, simple, highly effective way to help your child avoid cavities, especially on their molars, which are the hardest to reach.

When should my child have dental x-rays?

We recommend taking x-rays around the age of 2 or 3 to familiarize your child with the process. These first x-rays usually consist of simple pictures of the front upper and lower teeth.

Once the baby teeth in the back of the mouth are touching each other, then regular (usually yearly) x-rays are recommended. When the first permanent teeth erupt around age 6, x-rays will help us make sure your child’s teeth and jaw are healthy and properly aligned.

While even conventional dental x-rays are considered safe, we use low-dose digital x-rays. Our state-of-the-art x-ray device exposes kids to up to 80% less radiation.

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