Pediatric Dental FAQs

Below are common questions and our answers about the best way to care for children’s teeth.

When should I schedule my child’s first visit to the dentist?

We recommend you make an appointment to see the dentist as soon as your son or daughter gets that first tooth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children be seen by six months after their first tooth erupts, or at one year of age, whichever comes first.

How is a pediatric dentist different from other dentists?

All dental specialists (pediatric dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, and others) begin by completing dental school, then continue their education with several years of additional specialized training. During training in the field of pediatric dentistry, Dr. Verhagen gained extensive knowledge and experience in treating infants, children, adolescents and those with special needs.

Pediatric dentists enjoy working with children, and bring to each patient our expertise in childhood development and behavior. Because our office is geared toward young visitors, you’ll find that our staff, as well as our office design, decorations, and activities, all work together to provide an especially friendly and comfortable environment for children.

What happens during my child’s first visit to the dentist?

The first visit is usually short and simple. In most cases, we focus on getting to know your little one and giving you some basic information about dental care, snacking, and use of beverages. Dr. Verhagen will check your son or daughter’s teeth, gums, and jaw development as well as look for cavities and early signs of decay. If necessary, we may do a bit of cleaning.

We will also answer any questions you have about how to care for your child’s teeth as they develop, and provide you with helpful tips you can use at home.

How can I prepare my child for the first dental appointment?

The best preparation for your child’s first visit to our office is to maintain a positive attitude. Children pick up on adults’ apprehensions, so if you make negative comments about trips to the dentist, you can be sure your child will anticipate an unpleasant experience and behave accordingly.

It is best to refrain from words that might cause unnecessary fear such as “needle,” “shot,” “pull,” or “hurt.” We make a practice of using words that convey the same message but are pleasant and non-frightening to children.

Show your child the pictures of the office and staff on the website. Let your him or her know it’s vital to keep our teeth and gums healthy, and the doctor will help to do that. Remember that Dr. Verhagen is specially trained to handle fears and anxiety, and our staff excels at putting children at ease during treatment.

How often should my child visit the dentist?

We generally recommend scheduling checkups every six months. Depending on the circumstances of your youngster’s oral health, we may recommend more frequent visits.

Baby teeth aren’t permanent; why do they need special care?

Although they don’t last as long as permanent teeth, children will retain their baby teeth from 7 months until age 12 years. While they’re in place, primary teeth help your little one speak, smile, and chew properly.

They also hold space in the jaw for permanent teeth. If a child loses a tooth too early (due to damage or decay), nearby teeth may encroach on that space, which can result in crooked or misplaced permanent teeth. Also, your child’s general health is affected by the oral health of the teeth and gums.

What’s the best way to clean my baby’s teeth?

Even before your baby’s first tooth appears, we recommend you clean the gums after feedings with a damp, soft washcloth. As soon as the first tooth appears, you can start using a toothbrush.

Choose a brush with soft bristles and a small head. You most likely can find one designed for infants at your local drugstore.

At what age is it appropriate to use toothpaste to clean my child’s teeth?

Once your youngster has a few teeth, you can start using toothpaste on the brush. Use only a tiny amount of toddler toothpaste (without fluoride). Generally, around the age of three years children learn to spit out the toothpaste.

This is the time to start using a small amount (the size of a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste. When looking for a toothpaste for your child, make sure to pick one recommended by the American Dental Association as shown on the tube and box. These toothpastes have undergone testing to ensure they are safe to use.

You should brush your child’s teeth until he or she is ready to take on that responsibility, which usually happens by age six or seven.

What causes cavities?

Certain types of bacteria live in our mouths. When they come into contact with sugary foods left behind on our teeth after eating, acids are produced. These acids attack the enamel on the exterior of the teeth, and eventually eat through the enamel and create holes in the teeth, which we call cavities.

How can I help my child avoid cavities?

Make sure your child brushes his or her teeth for two minutes at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Flossing daily is also important, because flossing can reach spots between the teeth that brushing can’t.

Check with us about a fluoride supplement, which helps tooth enamel become harder and more resistant to decay. Avoid sugary foods and drinks, limit snacking, and maintain a healthy diet.

Finally, make regular appointments so we can check the health of your child’s teeth and provide professional cleanings.

Does my child need dental sealants?

Sealants fill the pits and grooves in permanent teeth that are difficult to brush and therefore susceptible to decay. We recommend sealants as a safe, simple way to help your little one avoid cavities, especially for molars, which are hardest to reach.

My child plays sports; how can I protect his or her teeth?

Even children’s sports involve contact, so we recommend mouthguards for children active in sports. If your little one plays baseball, soccer, or other sports, ask us about having a custom-fitted or store-bought mouthguard made to protect the teeth, lips, face, and jaw.

What should I do if my child sucks a thumb?

Sucking is a natural reflex. Infants and young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers, and other objects on which to suck. It may make them feel secure and happy, or provide a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb sucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep.

How intensely your child sucks on thumb or fingers will determine whether dental problems may result. A large majority of children outgrow the habit by age three. Peer pressure causes many school-aged children to stop.

Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb sucking. They can affect the teeth the same way as sucking on thumbs or fingers. However, use of a pacifier can be controlled or discontinued more easily than the thumb or finger habit.

If your child continues with a sucking habit beyond the age of four, we will suggest various approaches you can use.

When should my child have dental X-rays taken?

We recommend taking X-rays around the age of three. The first set consists of simple pictures of the front upper and lower teeth, which familiarizes your child with the process.

Once the baby teeth in back are touching one another, then regular (at least yearly) X-rays are recommended. Permanent teeth start coming in around age six, and a panoramic X-ray will help us determine if your child is congenitally missing permanent teeth as well as make sure teeth and jaw are healthy and properly aligned.

If your son or daughter is at a high risk of dental problems, we may suggest having X-rays taken at an earlier age.

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