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The Ultimate Guide to Dental Health for Kids

When it comes to dental health for kids, it’s hard to know what exactly you should be doing as parents or caregivers.

You might ask yourselves questions like:

“What’s the best toothpaste for kids?”

“When do I take them to the dentist?”

“How do I make brushing teeth fun?”

“Are pacifiers okay for my child?”

While you may not have all the right answers, the team at Sala Family Dentistry is here to help. We’ve asked them to answer some of your most asked questions and more so that you could have the ultimate guide to dental health for your kids right at your fingertips.

From teething tips to braces and understanding the benefits of fluoride and flossing.

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dental health for kids

Dental Health for Kids – Baby

Everyone loves to see a child give a big, happy, healthy smile. However, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children.

Cavities can lead to pain, infection, lost or unproductive time at school, and disturbances in speech and eating. Therefore, keeping their teeth as healthy as possible is extremely important.

Even though your child will eventually lose all of their baby teeth, they are still very important. Healthy baby teeth allow for proper speech, good self-esteem and self-image, chewing, and saving space for their permanent teeth.


Teeth first begin moving from the bone into the gums in the eruption phase of teething. The next step is known as cutting which is when the teeth start to break through the surface of the gums.

Either or both of these can be uncomfortable for your child and lead to fussiness. You can usually expect to see your child’s first tooth around 6 months of age, but this can vary from child to child.

Some children will get their teeth sooner or later than “normal” and teething can even vary among siblings.

Some common signs and symptoms of teething include avoiding breastfeeding or eating, biting/chewing/sucking on everything or conversely not biting/chewing/sucking on anything, fussiness, unwillingness to eat, inability to sleep, and drooling.

Teething toys can often be a very helpful tool for parents with a teething child as it helps their teeth cut through the gums.

Before buying a teething toy for your child, be sure that it does not contain any harmful chemicals and that it will be durable enough to withstand the abuse your child will put it through. It can also be helpful to buy toys that can be cooled in the refrigerator/freezer.

Why Do We Have Baby Teeth?

The most obvious answer to ‘Why do we have baby teeth?’ is that the smaller mouths of children need smaller teeth, but there are also other very important reasons as to why baby teeth are beneficial to your child’s growth and development.

Your child’s baby teeth help with jaw growth and maintain an adequate amount of space for the permanent teeth to properly erupt.

A child’s jaw is not big enough to house all of the necessary permanent teeth early in life and thus an initial set of teeth is required until there is enough room for all of the permanent teeth to erupt properly.

Baby teeth are also very important in speech development. They help children speak properly, which is an essential component of social and cognitive development.

Baby teeth also allow your child to chew their food. This process helps the jaw bones and muscles of mastication develop. Additionally, sufficiently chewed food aids in digestion and absorption of nutrients into the body that helps your child’s overall health, growth, and development.

Also, permanent teeth use baby teeth as a guide to help them erupt into the mouth with the proper position and orientation. Missing or prematurely lost baby teeth frequently result in permanent teeth that erupt into disadvantageous positions, or sometimes not at all, if there isn’t sufficient space maintenance & guidance by the baby tooth.

The end result is a crowded and misaligned smile with potentially adverse effects on development as the child grows.

It is important to note that baby teeth are more susceptible to cavities than permanent teeth.

That is why it is extremely important to perform proper hygiene on your child’s baby teeth as soon as they erupt into the mouth in order to help their permanent teeth in years to come!

dental health for kids

Losing Baby Teeth

Losing our baby teeth is something that we all have to go through. Some look forward to it and are eager to help their teeth fall out while others are more cautious and let them stay for as long as possible. Regardless of what end of the spectrum your child falls into, it’s a big deal to lose a tooth for all kids, and it’s important to make it a positive experience for your child.

Try to have your child approach losing teeth with a positive mindset. It can be a daunting and scary thing for children to lose their teeth, especially when it is their first one. Focus on reminding them that they are growing up and becoming a “big kid.”

You can tell them how cool and exciting it is to start losing their teeth and try to diminish the fact that they might experience a little discomfort and bleeding in the process.

It’s usually best to encourage your child to wiggle out their tooth on their own as they feel comfortable. Forcing the issue and trying to remove it for them before they are ready can be a setback.

Try attempting to remove it for them only if they ask for help or with gentle persuasion. It is often helpful to reward them in ways other than by the tooth fairy such as with a special treat or small prize.

Pacifiers and Thumbsucking

Sucking on a thumb or pacifier is a natural reflex for babies and toddlers which helps to sooth & comfort them. It can be beneficial for the child (and parent) by helping the child sleep, stay calm during periods of stress, and may even reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

After a certain age, however, a thumbsucking or pacifier habit can become harmful. It may affect the way permanent teeth grow in and even lead to changes in the shape of the child’s jaw.

Most children will stop these habits on their own by about four years of age, but if the habit persists much longer, they may need some help and encouragement.

A pacifier habit can often end by merely taking away the pacifier or even gradually reducing how often it is used until it is eventually taken away completely.

Cessation of a thumbsucking habit is usually harder due to the continuous availability of the thumbs! A popular remedy is to paint the child’s thumbs with a foul-tasting topical solution but this is frequently ineffective or even harmful.

Some more positive and effective solutions can be to praise the child for making strides in reducing their habit as opposed to scolding or condemning continued thumbsucking or pacifier use.

Another frequently successful method is to cover their hands with socks to prevent thumbsucking while they sleep. You may also try swapping a child’s thumb for a different comfort item such as a favorite stuffed animal.

Prevent Bottle Rot

“Bottle rot” is the term used to describe cavities resulting from the continuous and prolonged exposure of a young child’s teeth to the sugars in milk and juice. It is typically caused by the use of a bottle or sippy cup at bedtime, but may even occur as a result of breastfeeding if proper oral hygiene isn’t performed.

It is important to note that breast milk does not contain cavity-preventing ingredients that help “protect” a child’s teeth from decay.

The best way to combat bottle rot is to only use bottles or sippy cups at dedicated meal and snack times. When a child is thirsty between meals, try to only give them water.

It is also important to perform frequent and proper oral hygiene. Brush your baby’s teeth as soon as they erupt into the mouth with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a very small amount (”smear”) of fluoridated toothpaste.

Lastly, reduce your child’s consumption of sugar-containing drinks as much as possible. Our office can also help prevent bottle rot by providing your child with in-office fluoride treatments.

Dental Health for Kids – School Age

dental health for kids

Is Your Child Grinding Their Teeth?

Children often grind their teeth at night while sleeping as well as when they are anxious, angry, stressed, or simply as an idiosyncratic behavior. Grinding/clenching your teeth is actually a very common behavior.

Most children do not typically grind their teeth on purpose and are usually not consciously aware that they are even doing it!  It is still not known exactly why so many children grind their teeth but it may be related to stress or anxiety.

It may also be mediated by factors such as misaligned teeth, stimulation during teething, and due to textural sensations with the teeth when rubbed together.

Even though grinding doesn’t ultimately lead to long-term issues in most children, it can become a point of concern for some. It can cause significant loss of tooth structure and result in sensitivity and pain. It may also result in broken teeth, gum recession, misalignment & discrepancies between the teeth and/or jaws, and possibly even temporomandibular disorders (problems with the jaw joint).

Below are some signs & symptoms that can help determine if your child is a tooth grinder:

  • You can actually hear or see them grinding their teeth
  • They complain about tooth or jaw pain
  • Headaches or facial pain & soreness
  • Their teeth are becoming more sensitive
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Chipped, broken, or loose teeth

When Should My Child Get Braces?

A question that is frequently asked at the dentist is, “When should my child get braces?” In short, there is no universal answer. It depends upon every child’s individual & unique set of circumstances, but there are some guidelines and factors to consider when determining what time is best for your child.

Many orthodontists recommend having a child evaluated for orthodontic treatment as early as 7 years of age. It is important to note that this does not mean that your child will get braces at this age. It gives the orthodontist a chance to evaluate the patient’s teeth and get a sense of what treatment may be needed as they grow and develop.

At 7 years old, most children have had some permanent teeth erupt into the mouth, and the orthodontist can get an idea of what the orientation of the permanent teeth will be going forward. In certain instances, orthodontic treatment may be required at this age.

By treating various conditions at an early age, it can be easier to prevent or eliminate more severe & extensive treatment later on. If your child does in fact need braces early in life, it is imperative to help them with their oral hygiene.

Most children initiate orthodontic treatment between 10 and 14 years of age. During this age range, patients have typically lost all of their baby teeth and the teeth & jaws are able to tolerate long-term orthodontic treatment.

Teens and pre-teens tend to be mature enough and responsible enough to cope with the challenges associated with orthodontic treatment such as dietary changes & modification as well as better/increased attention to oral hygiene habits.

You are also never too old to receive orthodontic treatment. Many adults did not have access to orthodontic treatment as children or they delayed getting braces for a myriad of reasons. As a result, many patients get orthodontic treatment much later in life.

Ultimately, your child will need a professional evaluation from an orthodontist to determine when the right time is to start treatment.

Preventing Cavities

You know how important it is to prevent cavities, but how can we help prevent them for our children?

The Benefits of Fluoride

When it comes to dental health for kids, dental decay is the most common disease affecting children and adults worldwide. Fluoride has been shown to be one of the most effective methods at helping reduce cavities.

The American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and an abundance of scientific studies & research recommend fluoride as an extremely beneficial and safe way of preventing cavities.

The use of fluoride in public water sources to help prevent & reduce cavities has been called one of the “Top Ten Greatest Health Achievements of the 20th Century” by the Center for Disease Control. Fluoride in water supplies is at a safe level to be consumed and is recommended by nearly all public health, medical, and dental organizations including the U.S. Public Health Service and the World Health Organization.

The U.S. Surgeon General reported that approximately 51 million school hours are missed every year because of dental-related illness, and it has been reported that cavities have decreased by 25% in adults and children since the fluoridation of public water systems.

dental health for kids

When used appropriately, fluoride is both safe and effective in preventing and controlling cavities.

While it is important to treat cavities, the best treatment option is to prevent cavities from ever forming. Fluoride helps prevent cavities by binding very strongly to the tooth enamel which makes it harder and more resistant to cavities, and it can also help reverse early decay.

As your child’s teeth start erupting, you can begin using fluoridated toothpaste when brushing with an amount about the size of a grain of rice (for children 3 years of age and below) in order to minimize the amount that is swallowed.

As your child gets older and is able to predictably spit out the excess toothpaste after brushing, a pea-sized amount can be used for children 3 to 6 years of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and the American Dental Association recommend fluoridated toothpaste for all children.

Fluoride treatments at the dental office are also recommended and tend to be very fast & easy and should be applied by your dentist in-office to permanent and baby teeth at least once every six months.

To maximize the benefits of fluoride toothpaste, brushing should be supervised and performed twice daily. In addition, rinsing with water after brushing should be kept to a minimum or eliminated completely.

Place Sealants on Teeth

Sealants are a fast and easy way to help your child stay cavity-free. Sealants are a protective coating that is placed on the biting surfaces of molars in the pits & grooves to help seal out food debris, plaque, and bacteria.

Sealants are very effective when it comes to dental health for kids. Some studies have shown that they reduce the risk of cavities by up to 80% and that children without sealants are nearly three times as likely to have decay.

To place a sealant, the tooth is first cleaned very well and then dried & treated with a “special soap” to help the sealant adhere better to the tooth. The tooth is rinsed & dried again and then the sealant material is placed & quickly cured with a special light. The sealant and bite are checked and that’s it!

The sooner the sealants are applied, the less likely the tooth will be to get a cavity. Sealants are applied throughout childhood/adolescence as the permanent molars erupt into the mouth and may need to be applied more than once throughout the lifetime of a tooth.

Electric vs. Manual Toothbrushes

Brushing your child’s teeth is one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep them cavity-free. However, which type of toothbrush to use, whether an electric or manual version, is a question frequently asked by parents.

Manual and electric toothbrushes are both effective at preventing cavities and gingivitis.

The American Dental Association states that both manual and electric toothbrushes can be equally effective at removing plaque and helping prevent gum disease and cavities. Which type to use then depends on your own personal preferences as well as several other factors.

Some children think that electric toothbrushes are more fun and exciting than manual toothbrushes which can facilitate better brushing habits. For children who are less apt to brush frequently or effectively or who have difficulty brushing with a manual toothbrush, an electric toothbrush may be easier or more comfortable to use and promote better compliance.

Also, many electric toothbrushes have built-in timers to help your child brush for the appropriate amount of time. Manual toothbrushes can be just as effective as electric versions.

They clean teeth and remove plaque and food debris just as well when used with the proper technique and for the desired amount of time.

Some children may like manual toothbrushes better because the vibration of electric brushes can be over-stimulating and bothersome. Regardless of which type you decide to use, choose a toothbrush that is specifically designed to fit your child’s small hands and mouth that has a large handle to help them control the toothbrush.

Choose a toothbrush with soft bristles and replace your child’s toothbrush every 3 months or sooner if the bristles are fraying or are damaged.

The best toothbrush for your child is whatever one they are most likely to use and proper brushing technique & frequency of brushing are the most important factors.

dental health for kids

Foods To Eat & Foods to Avoid

One of the best ways to prevent cavities and promote overall dental health for kids is to make sure they have a balanced diet.

A healthy & balanced diet naturally supplies all of the nutrients that your child needs to grow and develop and is required for your child’s teeth to develop properly and have healthy surrounding gums.

Limiting the number of servings of sugars and starches will help protect your child’s teeth from decay. A wide variety of foods contain one or more types of sugar and all sugars can promote cavities.

Healthy foods that don’t cause cavities to include crunchy and leafy vegetables, cheese, nuts, meats, fats, eggs, and water.

Foods that can cause cavities with a moderate amount of risk are whole milk, fresh fruit, whole grain bread, popcorn, smoothies, dark chocolate (>70% cocoa), yogurt, dips & sauces, and oatmeal.

Foods that easily cause cavities include candy, soda, juice, chocolate milk, cookies, dried fruit, fruit snacks, pretzels/crackers/chips, oranges, bananas, and sports drinks.

The Truth About Flossing

Everyone knows that flossing is an extremely important component of good oral hygiene, yet so few of us do it as part of our daily routine.

This will address some of the reasons (or excuses!) as to why so many of us don’t floss.

“My Gums Bleed”

Many people believe that if their gums bleed, they should stop flossing. The truth is, however, that you should actually floss more! Bleeding gums result from bacteria and plaque accumulation between your teeth that causes inflammation of the gums and consequently bleeding.

A small amount of bleeding can be normal as you commence routine flossing but should taper off as you progress.

“I can’t floss because I have braces”

Even with braces, you should floss to remove all of the food and plaque that accumulates between your teeth.

In fact, it is even more important to floss while wearing braces because the brackets & wires trap more food debris and plaque than teeth without them. Not flossing with braces can cause periodontal disease and tartar buildup.

Also, you are more likely to develop stains or “white spot lesions” (which are the start of cavities!) on your teeth which defeats the purpose of spending a significant amount of time, money, and effort into achieving a beautiful and healthy smile.

dental health for kids

“Flossing Hurts”

If done gently and with the correct technique, flossing should not hurt. If it is painful, you may be using too much force or are not using the floss correctly.

Always feel free to ask your dental professional for a description & demonstration on proper flossing technique if you are experiencing pain….we love to talk about flossing!

“Mouthwash is just as good as flossing”

Mouthwash, particularly one with fluoride, can help you maintain a happy & healthy smile but it is no substitute for traditional flossing.

The “swishing” action of mouthwash is not effective at removing small food debris between teeth or at removing the sticky plaque that develops on the sides of teeth. It is recommended that you always floss first and then supplement with a mouthwash after brushing.

“Only adults need to floss”

Children and adults both need to floss regularly to maintain good oral health and prevent cavities between teeth.

You can begin introducing floss to your child once their baby teeth erupt. You will need to help them floss during childhood until they are able to do it properly & adequately on their own.

Just do it! Especially when it comes to dental health for kids, flossing is a great way to protect your teeth and have better oral hygiene.

Things to Avoid When Brushing

How you use and treat the toothbrush you use can be just as important as how frequently you brush.

Here are a few tips to consider when it comes to brushing your teeth:

Don’t use a toothbrush for too long.

The American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush at least every four months. Worn or frayed toothbrush bristles are less effective at removing plaque and can even damage your gums.

Brush for an adequate amount of time.

It is recommended that we brush for at least two minutes in the morning and at night before bed. In order to help ensure that we have brushed for a full two minutes, you can use a timer or play a song while brushing. Also, many electric toothbrushes come with built-in timers to facilitate a full two minutes of brushing.

Do Not Brush Too Hard.

The plaque we remove when brushing our teeth is very soft and only requires gentle pressure to remove. Brushing too hard can damage your gums.

Do Not Use Hard Bristles on Your Toothbrush.

Using hard bristles on your toothbrush can damage your gums in the same manner as brushing too hard. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles only.

Do Not Brush Immediately After You Finish Eating.

The oral environment becomes acidic after eating which in turn temporarily weakens the enamel of our teeth. If you brush IMMEDIATELY after eating, you can actually scrub away your enamel. Wait at least half an hour after eating to brush your teeth.

You can swish with plain water immediately after eating to help neutralize the acid in your mouth and remove food debris.

Properly Store Your Toothbrush.

Store your toothbrush upright and in a location where it can receive plenty of airflow to allow the bristles to dry out.

Brush with the Proper Technique.

Brush your teeth with the bristles angled at 45 degrees to the gum line and gently sweep back and forth. Be sure to brush all surfaces of the teeth.

dental health for kids

Creating a Routine

Being a parent is a full-time job, and it can often be difficult to manage your child’s oral hygiene. Here are a few tips to help you and your child take care of their teeth for a life-long healthy smile.

Treat your child’s baby teeth with the same level of importance that you would their permanent teeth. Baby teeth maintain space in their mouth to allow the permanent teeth to erupt as well as allow them to eat and speak properly.

Tips For Good Oral Hygiene

It is important to brush twice daily and floss once a day to keep their teeth healthy. Getting your child to brush & floss on their own or doing it for them can often be a challenge.

To help facilitate good oral hygiene habits, try these suggestions:

  • Make brushing/flossing a daily priority that is important & necessary and cannot be skipped
  • Brush & floss wherever it is convenient (not necessarily in the bathroom)
  • Brush without toothpaste if necessary; toothpaste acts as a source of fluoride and freshens breath, but it is not as important as the act of brushing alone
  • Allow them to choose their toothbrush and floss/flossing aids as a means of getting them actively involved
  • Make it as fun as possible and approach their oral hygiene with a positive attitude; playing music they enjoy or making it into a game can often be helpful

Brushing twice per day (morning and night) and flossing once daily will help ensure a healthy smile.

Creating A Dental Hygiene Routine

Despite your dentist constantly reminding you to floss, most people fail to do so. Flossing is an extremely important component of achieving and maintaining good oral health.

If you’re having trouble establishing flossing as part of your daily routine or remembering to brush at least twice per day (especially before bedtime), here are some tips:

Have a Teammate or Accountability Partner

A parent, sibling, significant other, or roommate can be an excellent partner to help you establish and conquer your oral hygiene goals. They can help provide motivation as well as hold you accountable if you begin to waiver.

Reward Good Behavior

It’s often easier to achieve a goal if there is a reward at the end. This can be done on a daily, weekly, or even longer basis. Just try to avoid sugary foods as the reward! There can be individual rewards for those that stick to the routine or even a larger reward for the entire family if everyone sticks to their oral hygiene routine.

Set a Realistic and Achievable Goal

Establish a routine that works with your schedule and personality. If you’re always in a rush to get to work or school on time, maybe try brushing/flossing at an earlier point in the morning. Or if everyone is exhausted at bedtime, brush & floss after dinner before the sleepiness sets in.

Baby Steps

To keep from getting discouraged or creating an unrealistic goal, start small and work your way up. For example, it might be better to start flossing three times per week which will eventually become seven days per week.

Set An Alarm or Reminder On Your Phone

Having an alarm or reminder on your phone will help to continuously & consistently remind you that it is time for your routine brushing and flossing.

Maintain Your Regular Dental Check-Ups

Regular dental check-ups are one of the most important parts of achieving and maintaining good oral health.

Your dentist will be able to help prevent any potential issues and will help address any concerns before they progress into something more serious.

dental health for kids

Make Tooth Brushing Fun

Brushing and flossing isn’t necessarily an exciting activity, however, by making it fun and interactive, you can help your child develop good oral hygiene habits that will last a lifetime.

If you’re having trouble getting your child interested in brushing their teeth, try these tips to help them enjoy the time spent caring for their teeth and gums.

Brush Your Teeth at The Same Time

Children often want to do exactly what their parents do and thus it’s often easier for a child to get involved in good oral hygiene habits when they are able to follow your example as a parent. It’s a great opportunity to spend time together while also improving BOTH of your oral hygiene habits.

Singing Songs

Singing can be a great way to create a fun atmosphere. It can be quite a comical experience to brush while also singing along to one of your favorite songs.

You can also use the songs as a means of ensuring that you’re brushing for a sufficient amount of time, much like singing the “ABC’s” or “The Birthday Song” when washing your hands for the desired amount of time.

Use Brightly Colored Toothpaste and Toothbrushes

There are many types of toothbrushes and toothpaste that are specifically designed for children that often come in bright colors, fun designs, or with their favorite cartoon character or superhero.

Your child can pick out their own special toothbrush/toothpaste combination to help pique their interest in brushing.  Praise Them For A Job Well Done

Praise and positive reinforcement for doing a good job is a simple & lasting way to promote your child’s healthy oral hygiene habits. You can also reward your child for good oral hygiene habits.

Healthy Dental Habits

When it comes to our teeth, we want to make sure we do what we can to take care of them. If you haven’t been to a dentist recently, we highly recommend booking an appointment for a cleaning and check-up to make sure everything looks good.

You can learn more and book an appointment with the Sala Family Dentistry team here.

This will help your child maintain healthy habits throughout their lives. What healthy habits do you have when it comes to dental health for kids and yourself?

Thank you to Sala Family Dentistry for sponsoring this post. Read our disclosure.

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Sala Family Dentistry

Welcome to Sala Family Dentistry where we have been serving our community since 1974. Growing up we remember our dad, Dr. Mike coming home from a day at the office happy. As children, we did not know the positive effect this would have and naturally the two of us, Drs. Jason and Todd wanted to find something that would make us happy as well. We both found it through dentistry.

Yes, we geek out on the details of dentistry, which serves our patients exceptionally well, but that was not what would ultimately satisfy our happy desire. We both wanted something more, we wanted an extended family where our patients and team members become family. The beauty of dentistry is that we get to go through life with our patients, we get to grow up and old with you. It is through these relationships that we have developed an office-wide treatment philosophy of being “Caring People, Caring for People.”

If you are a patient or team member, you know this already, and if you are not yet part of our extended family, we welcome you to come in and experience a happy, positive, and caring dental environment.