Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Your Child’s Dental Health

We are honored to bring this informative post to our readers from ACMB’s partner Stone Oak & Dominion Pediatric Dentistry. 

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. In keeping with the theme of children’s dental health education and prevention, we are sharing some of the most frequently asked questions we receive from parents. The information we are sharing is credited to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry as well as a combined 40 years of dentistry practice by our pediatric dentists, Dr. Susie Hayden, Dr. Courtney Alexander, and Dr. Renee Mikulec. We serve children ages one through the teen years at two locations in the San Antonio area: Stone Oak Pediatric Dentistry at 20322 Huebner Road, Suite 103 (opened in 2001) and Dominion Pediatric Dentistry at 25035 West IH-10, Suite 201 (started in 2010).

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1. When should I take my child to the dentist for the first check-up?

Our office, as well as the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Dental Association (ADA), all recommend establishing a “dental home” for your child by one year of age. In order to prevent dental problems, our pediatric dentists recommend that your child should see a pediatric dentist when the first tooth appears, or no later than his/her first birthday.

2. What is a pediatric dentist?

Pediatric dentists are the pediatricians of dentistry. A pediatric dentist has an additional two to three years of specialized training following dental school and limits his/her practice to treating children and teens only. Pediatric dentists are primary and specialty oral care providers for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health needs.

3. Why are baby teeth that important to my child’s growth and development?

Primary, or “baby,” teeth are important for four major reasons: (1) function for chewing and eating for proper nutrition and development; (2) provide space for permanent teeth and guides them into the correct position; (3) permit normal development of the jaw bones and muscles; and (4) play an important role in proper speech development.

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4. When should we begin using toothpaste, and how much should we use?

The sooner, the better! Parents can start cleaning a baby’s gums before the first tooth erupts by using a soft cloth with water. After the first tooth erupts, you can use a wet baby toothbrush to gently rub the surface of the tooth. We recommend using a small amount of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice while brushing as soon as the first tooth erupts. Once children are three years of age, the amount of toothpaste should be increased to a small pea-sized dollop with the parent assisting the child in brushing. Remember that young children do not have the ability to brush their teeth effectively. Children should spit out and not swallow excess toothpaste after brushing.

5. When it comes my child’s diet, what should we avoid that could be harmful to his teeth?

All children need a healthy balanced diet. As pediatric dentists, we see lots of children whose snacks are responsible for most of their dental problems. Many parents are not aware of the devastating effects of not just sugary snacks and drinks, but especially the harmful effects from too many sour snacks and drinks. Limiting the servings of sugars and sours will also aid in protecting your child’s teeth from decay. Fruity or sour snacks/candies are very acidic. Acid weakens and wears away important tooth enamel, which leads to tooth decay. We recommend completely avoiding sour candies (sour patch kids, sour straws, sour skittles…anything with the word SOUR)! Sugary snacks and drinks are equally harmful to your child’s teeth. Most sodas and energy and sports drinks contain 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar! Even sugar-free or diet drinks have high levels of acid. Gummy snacks (e.g., fruit snacks, fruit roll-ups, gummy bears, fruit chews) should also be avoided. Even gummy type vitamins can lead to cavities! We recommend cutting a gummy vitamin and having the child swallow small pieces or placing small pieces in yogurt or applesauce that can be easily swallowed. This way, they get the benefit of the vitamin without the damaging effect of the gummy. These sticky/gummy snacks get stuck between teeth, and brushing alone doesn’t do the job. All these can lead to tooth decay, especially when little ones aren’t brushing twice a day or are not able to properly brush and floss on their own. As a parent, the most important role you can play in your child’s dental health is to limit sugary, sour, and sticky snacks/treats and assist your child in brushing and flossing daily!

6. How do dental sealants work, and why are they so important?

The AAPD recommends sealants as an effective method for cavity prevention, especially for those children with a history of tooth decay. Sealants work by filling in the crevasses on the chewing surfaces of the teeth. This prevents food particles from getting caught in the teeth, causing cavities. The pediatric dentist or hygienist applies this invisible protector by drying and conditioning the teeth, painting on the sealant, and then light curing it to harden. The application is fast and comfortable and can effectively protect teeth for many years.

7. What should I do if my child falls and knocks out a permanent tooth?

The most important thing to do is to remain calm. Then find the tooth. Hold it by the crown rather than the root and try to reinsert it in the socket. If that is not possible, put the tooth in a glass of milk and take your child and the glass immediately to the pediatric dentist.

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8. How safe are dental X-rays? Why are they important?

There is very little risk in dental X-rays. You actually get more radiation by being out in the sun for ten minutes than you get with a digital radiograph. Pediatric dentists are especially careful to limit the amount of radiation to which children are exposed. Lead aprons and digital radiography are used to ensure safety and minimize the amount of radiation. Without X-rays, the dentist may not be able to see cavities that are forming between a child’s teeth. With an X-ray, the dentist can detect a cavity early on and treat it with a small filling. Without an X-ray, the dentist will not be able to detect the cavity until it is so large that it may require a crown to be placed.

9. What type of toothbrush should my child be using?

Tooth-brushing is one of the easiest and most effective methods of cavity prevention. Manual or powered, both can assist with keeping your child’s smile cavity-free. If you prefer a manual toothbrush, look for round-ended (polished) bristles that clean while being gentle on the gums. Choose one specifically designed for children’s smaller hands and mouths. Children’s toothbrushes should have small brushing heads with soft bristles. Look for large handles that can help children control the toothbrush. Many children may be more motivated to brush using an electric or battery-powered toothbrush. As dentists, we highly recommend electric toothbrushes to our patients because they do a better job of cleaning the teeth than a manual brush can.

10. When should my child begin flossing?

You should begin flossing your child’s teeth as soon as two teeth are side by side. We recommend using the child-sized flossing sticks daily. Unfortunately, we see many children with cavities between the teeth. Many foods and snacks (especially the sticky ones like gummies and soft, fruity shaped candies and vitamins) get stuck between the teeth. Without flossing, brushing alone usually doesn’t remove it.

Parents play the most critical part in their children’s development of good oral hygiene habits. It is a great idea for parents to brush their teeth at the same time their children do. This is a great teaching moment when parents can model and talk about good brushing and flossing techniques. The child understands that this is a daily routine, like brushing hair and bathing. Establishing good oral habits that include brushing twice daily for two minutes and flossing will have a huge impact on your child’s dental health for the rest of his/her life.

Ask your pediatric dentist or hygienist if you have questions or concerns about your child’s oral health. Early prevention is key. Our goal is to help children and parents establish good oral hygiene habits leading to a healthy smile for life. We believe that children should enjoy their visit to the dentist. From our friendly, caring staff to our fun-filled office designed specifically for children, we welcome you to stop by for a tour or visit our new website at SOPDTX.COM.

Brooke graduated high school from right here in San Antonio. After twelve years of living everywhere from Colorado to Greece, London to Atlanta, she and her husband have made San Antonio home and have become parents to their daughter and son. Brooke loves finding undiscovered activities around the city and dragging her kids along! She is a runner, an amateur cook that loves trying out San Antonio’s growing culinary scene and is actively involved in non-profit organizations in San Antonio.