Dental Care for Children
Baby to Toddler (0-3 years)
Even though they have fewer teeth - and none at all, for a while - babies require the same attention to oral health care as adults.
Clean your baby's gums and teeth from birth
- Your baby's gums still need to be wiped with a soft, clean cloth after each feeding to get rid of unwanted bacteria.
- Once the first tooth comes in, use a small, soft-bristled toothbrush with a smear of fluoride toothpaste to keep teeth and gums healthy.
- When two teeth touch and you're not able to clean between them with the brush, it's time to start flossing.
Take your child to the dentist by age 1 or six months after the first tooth comes in
- Starting dental visits at this stage ensures that your child develops a good relationship with the dentist from a young age and establishes a dental home for any future emergencies or problems.
- During the first checkup, the dentist will make sure everything is developing properly and provide a few tips on caring for a young child's teeth.
Don't wash a pacifier with your own mouth or share utensils, straws, or food
- Oral bacteria can be passed from mouth to mouth so carry extra pacifiers if one falls on the floor.
- Resist sharing utensils, straws, or food when your child begins to eat solid foods.
Don't give milk, juice, or other sugary drinks at naptime or bedtime
Your baby will most likely experience some discomfort as the first teeth make their debut. You can try teething rings, a cool spoon, a pacifier, or a cold, wet washcloth to help ease the pain. Massaging your baby's gums using a clean finger may also help.
While still a baby, pacifier use and thumb-sucking are harmless at this age, but try keeping an eye on those habits as your child gets older. Chronic thumb-sucking or use of pacifiers after the age of 3 may cause baby teeth to move out of their proper position and permanent teeth to come in incorrectly.
Young children often swallow most of the toothpaste put on their brush, so use just a smear of fluoride toothpaste until age 2. After children turn 2, use a pea-sized amount and continue to supervise or brush their teeth for them. Make sure they spit out the excess and rinse afterward Help your child brush properly twice a day.
Healthy primary teeth set the stage for a healthy permanent set so how you take care of your baby and child's teeth in the first few years can have an impact on the rest of your child's life. Read more about caring for your child's oral health.
Children (4-12 years)
Even though it can be hard to get young kids to slow down, it's important to make time for oral hygiene. Starting good habits now will set the stage for a lifetime of healthy smiles.
Supervise your child's brushing until age 8 and flossing until age 10
Continue to supervise and assist your child with brushing and flossing daily. Around age 8, your child may not need supervision in brushing although you're likely to need to help your child in flossing daily until age 10. Read more on caring for your child's oral health.
Take your child to the orthodontist by age 7
It's recommended that children visit the orthodontist by age 7. Losing baby teeth and the eruption of permanent teeth means some problems could develop. Often, the earlier an orthodontist can catch those problems, the easier - and less expensive - they are to fix.
Discuss sealants with your child's dentist as the permanent molars come in
When the molar teeth come in - first molars around age 6 and the second molars between 11 and 13, discuss sealants that have the most benefits when applied to newly erupted molars and can last up to 10 years.
Sealants, a thin plastic coating applied directly to teeth, help prevent bacteria from settling into the natural pits and grooves of teeth where most tooth decay in children develops. They can reduce the chances of a tooth forming new decay by up to 70 percent.
Learn more about how dental sealants shield kids from tooth decay.
Healthy meals and snacks are the key to good oral health
Tooth-friendly meals and snacks like cheese, yogurt, lean meats, veggies, and fruits play a big part in keeping your child's teeth healthy.
When your child has sweets, make sure they are eaten with meals since eating other foods helps stimulate saliva, which helps wash away food particles and reduces the chance of cavities. For most children, cavities are nearly 90 percent preventable, so establishing good oral health habits and watching what your child eats is very important.
Dental fears can happen. Try a few tricks to help calm anxiety
Taking your child to the dentist from age 1 helps develop a good relationship, still, it's common for kids to get anxious about dental appointments so here are some tips to help make those checkups go smoothly.
- Ask the dentist to explain what is going to happen with your child, whether it's just a standard cleaning or if it involves something new. like X-rays.
- Allow your child to use earphones to listen to music to help calm their nerves.
- Be in the exam room with your child. It's good for your child to get used to not having a parent present during exams or treatment, however, it may be helpful for some young children.
- Praise your child for doing a good job once the appointment is over.
Your child should wear a mouth guard for sports
- Mouth guards should be worn for almost any sport, especially if there's potential for contact with surfaces, other players, or equipment. Mouth guards should be worn for baseball, field hockey, football, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, soccer, softball, wrestling, water polo, and rugby.
- Mouth guards are also recommended for skateboarding and bicycling.
- In addition to keeping teeth safe, mouth guards can also minimize lacerated and bruised lips and cheeks by keeping these soft tissues away from the teeth.
- Your child's dentist is able to recommend the best type of mouth guard for your child.
Teach your preteen (ages 10-12) the risks of tobacco and how it can harm oral health
Be aware that children, even at this age, may try smoking or other tobacco products. Learn the risks and how it can harm oral health.
Early detection of oral cancer is key
When detected in the early stages, oral cancer is one of the more treatable cancers. Read more about avoiding oral cancer and how your child's regular dental visits can help in prevention and early detection.
How Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation is Improving Kid's Oral Health
Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation teaches kids about the importance of good oral health through its Land of Smiles program with the help of two costumed characters - Tooth Wizard and PlaqueMan. This free and engaging program has reached nearly 43,000 pre-kindergarten through third-grade students in 183 Illinois elementary schools this year. In the past 12 years, the program has reached nearly 400,000 students at almost 850 Illinois schools. Learn more and how you can request a Land of Smiles show at your child's school.