Pediatric Dentistry FAQ
Q: When should I take my child to the dentist for the first time?
A: As a general rule, the first time you see a tooth in your infant’s mouth, you should start planning the child’s first dental visit. This usually happens when an infant is about 6 months old, and it’s a good idea to take your child for their first dental examination before their first birthday. The American Association of Pediatric Dentists reports that tooth decay is likely to affect as many as 1 in 5 children under the age of 5. As with most conditions of the oral cavity, early diagnosis and treatment are integral parts of the effective treatment of conditions that affect young people and the health of their teeth and mouth. While you may be perfectly happy with your general dentist, there are many benefits to choosing a pediatric dental specialist for your child. Pediatric dentists specialize in working with infants, children, and adolescents, giving them a better understanding of conditions and diseases that affect children while managing the emotions of a potentially frightened or anxious patient. Pediatric dentists use smaller dental equipment that fits more comfortably inside smaller mouths, and they often decorate their exam rooms and waiting areas with objects and colors that engage and relax their younger patients. These choices help children identify a visit to the dentist as a positive experience, which normalizes the experience and makes children more likely to overcome any fear or apprehension they may associate with the dentist.
Q: What should I expect when I take my infant to the dentist for the first time?
A: It’s likely that your pediatrician has counseled you in keeping your newborn’s gums clean, especially after feeding, so you know that their gums should be gently cleaned with a soft cloth and water, and that you should use very little, if any, fluoride toothpaste before the child is two or three. Having an oral cleaning routine, even one that doesn’t involve toothpaste, can help build a strong oral hygiene foundation. During your infant’s first dental visit, you’ll be in the exam room with them, and you may be asked to hold them on your lap if they are squirming or can’t remain still as long as needed. The dentist will conduct a routine examination that looks just like an adult’s dental examination, checking the gums, soft tissues, and jaw; assessing the bite; and inspecting for tooth decay. They will also professionally clean your infant’s teeth and gums and provide you with instruction for home hygiene care for your infant, and they will be available to thoroughly address any questions you may have. While adults are generally counseled to see their dentist twice a year, children’s needs can differ, and your child’s pediatric dentist can make a recommendation for your child’s needs.
Q: How can I help prevent tooth decay that may be caused by breastfeeding?
A: Even before you take your child to the dentist for the first time, you should take whatever measures you can to keep the oral cavity clean and free of destructive bacteria. This includes cleaning the gum tissue and any emerging teeth with water and a soft cloth, small toothbrush, or medical gauze, especially after feeding. Dentists also recommend that infants only use a bottle to help them fall asleep if the bottle contains water and only water, as anything with naturally occurring sugars or carbohydrates will encourage the colonization of bacteria in the mouth. Once your child has their primary teeth, teach them to brush at least twice a day, if not after every meal, and also teach them the importance of flossing daily, to help them maintain the healthy foundation you started for them early.
Q: What is the difference between a dentist and a pediatric dentist?
A: Just as you have a general practitioner who you see for basic medical care, you also have a general dentist. When you need to see a specialist, your general practitioner or general dentist can refer you to someone who is highly trained in treating and meeting your specific needs. A pediatric dentist is a specialist who focuses exclusively on the primary and secondary treatment and care of infants and children, through adolescence, and who is also trained to properly and professionally address the dental needs of younger patients with special needs.
Q: My child has a toothache. What do I do?
A: When parents see their children in pain, their first instinct is usually to try to stop the pain. When a child has a toothache, this instinct is the same. Thankfully, over-the-counter pain medications, like children’s doses of acetaminophen, can effectively relieve pain when taken orally. Cold compresses that are applied to the outside of the face in the area of the toothache can also relieve pain and discomfort, and rinsing the mouth with salt water can help with pain and can also reduce inflammation and irritation. When symptoms appear, schedule an appointment for your child with their dentist, to make sure there are no underlying complications that may require additional treatment, and to receive treatment when needed.
Q: My daughter sucks her thumb. Is this bad for her?
A: Generally speaking, it doesn’t cause problems when a child uses a pacifier or sucks their thumb. These habits only lead to problems when they go on for a significantly long amount of time. In many cases, children grow out of these habits, but if your child still sucks their thumb or uses a pacifier and they are older than three, you may want to take the child to a pediatric dentist so they can be fitted for a special mouth appliance that will discourage these habits. When older children engage in these habits and have for an extended period, it can adversely affect the placement and spacing of the teeth and could also affect the patient’s bite.
Q: What can I feed my infant to ensure that they have healthy teeth and gums?
A: Establishing healthy dietary habits can be a huge part of helping your child maintain the health of their teeth and of their periodontium. Children should eat a balanced diet that contains plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and a recommended amount of breads, cereals, dairy products, and proteins. Limiting a child’s consumption of sugars and starches helps protect their teeth from tooth decay and can also help them establish healthy dietary habits. If your child has specific nutritional needs, their pediatric dentist can work with you to establish an effective dietary plan. Of course, brushing and flossing regularly, along with professional cleanings, are important no matter what a person eats, and these oral hygiene habits should be established early on to ensure a lifetime of health, both in the mouth and overall.