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Dental Care for Infants and Children

When should dental care begin?

Most pediatric dentists will agree that regular dental care should begin by one year of age, with a dental check-up at least twice each year for most children. Some children may need more frequent check-ups. The following dental checklist for infants and toddlers has been provided by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD):

Birth to 6 months of age:

  • Clean the infant's mouth with water and a cloth or gauze or use a soft infant toothbrush after feedings and at bedtime.

  • Consult your child's pediatrician regarding fluoride supplements, if you live in an area without fluoridated water.

  • Also ask about fluoride varnish that can be applied to the teeth.

  • Regulate feeding habits (bottle feeding and breastfeeding).

6 to 12 months of age:

  • During this time, the first tooth should appear. Consult the pediatric dentist for an exam as soon as the first tooth comes in, but no later than the child's first birthday.

  • Brush teeth after each feeding and at bedtime with a small, soft-bristled brush. Use a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice.

  • As the child begins to walk, stay alert of potential dental and/or facial injuries.

  • Wean the child from the bottle by his or her first birthday. (If a woman breastfeeds her child, the AAPD recommends breastfeeding for at least one year. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years.)

1 to 3 years of age:

  • Follow the schedule of dental exams and cleanings, as recommended by your child's pediatric dentist. Generally, dental exams and cleanings are recommended every 6 months for children and adults.

  • At about age 3, as your child learns to rinse and spit, brushing with a pea-sized portion of fluoridated toothpaste is best.

Facts about baby teeth

Picture of a young girl holding a tooth in her palm.

Proper care of a child's baby teeth (also known as primary teeth) is very important as these teeth hold space for the future eruption of permanent teeth.

  • If a baby tooth decays or is removed too early, the space necessary for the permanent teeth is lost and can only be regained through orthodontic treatment.

  • Infected baby teeth can cause the permanent teeth to develop improperly, resulting in stains, pits, and weaker teeth.

  • Primary teeth are important in speech development.

  • Primary teeth aid in chewing food properly, promoting healthy nutrition.

Most children begin losing their baby teeth around the ages 5 or 6 -- usually the front teeth first. They continue to lose baby teeth until the age of 12 or 13 when all of the permanent teeth finally come through, except for the third molars (wisdom teeth). These molars begin to appear around age 17 to 21.

Diet and dental care for children

The AAPD recommends the following to ensure your child eats correctly to maintain a healthy body and teeth:

  • Ask your pediatric dentist to help you assess your child's diet.

  • Shop smart. Do not routinely stock your pantry with sugary or starchy snacks. Buy "fun foods" just for special times.

  • Limit the number of snack times; choose nutritious snacks.

  • Provide a balanced diet, and save foods with sugar or starch for mealtimes.

  • Do not put your young child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice.

  • If your child chews gum or sips soda, choose those without sugar.