FAQ: Pediatric Dentistry

At what age is my child supposed to see a dentist?Children on playground equipment

It is advantageous for the first dental visit to occur within six months after the first tooth erupts, but no later than the first birthday. Treat the first dental visit as you would a well-baby checkup with the child’s physician.

During the first visit the dentist can:

  • (1) review the medical and dental histories
  • (2) complete a thorough oral examination to assess growth and development, oral hygiene, injuries, cavities and/or other problems
  • (3) clean the teeth as indicated and provide suggestions about daily care
  • (4) review feeding practices and provide dietary counseling
  • (5) assess your child’s risk of developing tooth decay
  • (6) provide information regarding oral development, teething, pacifier or finger/thumb-sucking habits and injury prevention
  • (7) plan for any needed treatment or the next check-up. The dentist will answer any questions the parents may have.

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What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a compound of the element fluorine, which is found universally throughout nature in water, soil, air and in most foods. Fluorine is absorbed easily into the tooth enamel, especially in children’s growing teeth. Once teeth are developed, fluoride makes the entire tooth structure more resistant to decay and promotes remineralization, which aids in repairing early decay before the damage is visible.

When will my child lose his/her baby teeth?

Children will begin losing their primary teeth at approximately age 6. They will usually lose their front teeth first. Children will continue to lose primary teeth until the age of 12 or 13.

When will my child start getting his/her permanent teeth?

At approximately age 6 children get their lower front teeth and their first permanent molars. These molars erupt behind the primary molars. The second permanent molars erupt at around age 12. The remaining third molars (wisdom teeth) erupt between 17 and 21 years of age.

What is a sealant?

A sealant is a plastic material that is usually applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth- molars and premolars. This plastic resin bonds into the depressions and grooves (pits and fissures) of the chewing surfaces of back teeth. The sealants act as a barrier, protecting enamel from plaque and acids.

Why are sealants necessary?

The pits and fissures of the chewing surfaces of posterior teeth can be very narrow and the bristles of the toothbrush cannot clean them because they cannot reach into them. Pits and fissures are snug places for plaque and bits of food to hide! In fact most cavities form in pit and fissure areas, and back teeth are extremely susceptible to this form of decay. Sealants can keep out plaque and food out of the pits and fissures of the back teeth, thus decreasing the risk of decay.

What is plaque?

Plaque is a whitish sticky layer of harmful bacteria that constantly forms on the surface of teeth. Plaque that is not removed can cause cavities and can irritate the gums, making them red, tender, and likely to bleed easily. This condition is called gingivitis and can lead to more serious periodontal disease that affects the gums and bone that anchor teeth in place.

Do water irrigation systems replace the need for floss?

Water irrigation systems should not be used as a substitute for brushing and flossing. These devices are effective in removing retained food from hard-to-reach areas but do not remove plaque.

How do you get cavities?

The bacteria from plaque convert sugar and starches that remain in the mouth to an acid that attacks tooth enamel. Brushing your child’s teeth twice a day and cleaning between teeth daily with floss can reduce the risk of decay.

What causes gum disease?

Gum disease is caused by bacteria. These bacteria, if left along the gum line, will irritate the gums and cause an inflammatory reaction. The gums then begin to bleed and swell allowing the bacteria to go deeper under the gum line. If the inflammation is allowed to continue, the bone will begin to demineralize and dissolve. As the bone dissolves around the teeth, the teeth become unsupported and will fall out. Unfortunately, pain does not occur until the final stages of the disease and treatment at that time has very little chance of being successful. If your gums bleed regularly, seek treatment as soon as possible.

Why is it important to fix baby teeth that have decay? Aren’t they going to come out soon anyway?

Primary (baby) teeth are just as important as permanent teeth for chewing, speaking, and appearance. In addition, the primary teeth hold space in the jaws for the permanent teeth. Both primary and permanent teeth help give the face its shape and form. When primary teeth get decay they can hurt or get infected as much as a permanent tooth does. Infected baby teeth can cause the permanent teeth to develop improperly resulting in stains, pits and weaker teeth.

Why are radiographs necessary?

Radiographs, or x-rays, help your dentist determine the presence of cavities, abscesses, bone disease and many abnormal growths such as cysts and tumors. They can pinpoint the location of cavities and other signs of disease that may not be possible to detect through a visual examination. Health care providers are sensitive to patients’ concerns about exposure to radiation. Your dentist has been trained to prescribe radiographs when they are appropriate and to tailor the radiograph schedule to your individual needs. By using state-of-the-art technology, such as digital radiography, and by staying knowledgeable about recent advances, your dentist knows which techniques, procedures and x-ray film can minimize your exposure to radiation.

Based on information provided by the American Dental Association & the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry created the Healthy Smiles Healthy Children campaign as a way to provide parents and caregivers with helpful hints on promoting their child’s oral health. Browse through this list of frequently asked questions on their site.