Get your little one’s oral health off to a good start.

One of your biggest duties as a parent is to keep your little one safe and healthy. So as they begin to grow, you might find yourself wondering about your child’s oral health — when to take your baby to the dentist, how to care for their teeth and gums, even how to find the best dentist near you. Getting your little one’s oral health started off on the right foot can benefit your child for years to come, helping their baby and permanent teeth come in strong and healthy. We know how overwhelming and confusing it can be to figure out how to care for your child’s oral health, so we’ve answered 10 questions parents in Salem, Oregon, often ask us about their children’s teeth.

1. When should my baby first go to the dentist?

Ideally, you should schedule an appointment for your baby’s first visit with a pediatric dentist soon after their first tooth comes in, usually around six months old. There’s a little wiggle room here, but your child should have their first dental appointment by the time they’re a year old.

2. Is it really important that I take my child to the dentist?

Yes, it’s incredibly important. Baby teeth have a thinner layer of protective enamel than permanent teeth, making them more vulnerable to decay and allowing decay to spread quickly across the surfaces of their teeth. Even though baby teeth aren’t permanent, it can be a problem if your child loses them too early; they hold a place in your child’s jaw for their permanent teeth, helping them come in the way they’re meant to. Losing a baby tooth too early causes their other teeth to shift in their mouth to close the gap, which often leads to crooked or overcrowded adult teeth.

Dr. Cooper and Dr. May are trained to spot signs of decay early and will give you great advice about caring for your little one’s teeth better. Seeing the dentist when your child is young also has the added benefit of helping your child form more positive associations with dental care, making appointments less stressful—perhaps even enjoyable—for you and your child.

3. What will my baby’s first appointment look like at Spinnaker?

During this first painless dental visit, Dr. Cooper or Dr. May will gently examine your little one’s teeth, jaws, and bite to ensure they’re developing normally. They will also check your child’s existing teeth for cavities and make sure their gums are healthy before quickly but thoroughly cleaning their teeth. Once this part of the appointment is complete, Dr. Cooper or Dr. May will take the time to sit down and answer all of your questions.

4. When will my baby start and stop teething?

Babies generally begin teething when they’re around six months old and often develop a full set of 20 baby teeth by the time they’re three years old. Every child develops at a slightly different rate, though, so don’t be too alarmed if your little one isn’t exactly on schedule.

5. What are deciduous teeth?

“Deciduous teeth” is simply a fancier term for what you likely call baby teeth, primary teeth, or milk teeth. Amazingly, although you won’t see your baby’s deciduous teeth for several months, they begin forming in the womb at six weeks’ gestation!

6. Do children ever need cosmetic dentistry?

Occasionally, some children do need cosmetic dentistry to repair and protect damaged teeth. Since keeping baby teeth is incredibly important, your child may need a crown placed on a severely damaged or decayed tooth to save it. If your child chips, cracks, or breaks a bit of a baby tooth off, dental bonding can be used to round off potentially sharp edges and protect the tooth from future damage; an injury to already-thin enamel can make the tooth more vulnerable to decay. Restoring their smile will also help your child build positive self-esteem, enabling them to feel confident in their smile. However, while older children and teens may sometimes benefit from purely cosmetic procedures like tooth whitening treatments, these treatments aren’t necessary for babies and toddlers and can potentially cause tooth sensitivity.

7. When will my child lose his or her first teeth?

Your little one will likely start losing their baby teeth around the age of six years old, usually starting with their lower front teeth. Over the next several years, they’ll lose teeth at a relatively steady pace, gaining their last permanent tooth—not counting their wisdom teeth—around the age of 13. Wisdom teeth take longer to come in and don’t arrive on as regular a schedule as other adult teeth do, generally erupting between the ages of 17 and 21.

8. How can I get my child to brush and floss?

Brushing and flossing your teeth isn’t exactly fun by itself, so it can be very hard to get your children—especially when they’re very young—to brush their teeth regularly and thoroughly. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can make oral hygiene fun! Try playing music and videos to entertain your child, set up a reward system for brushing their teeth regularly, or make it a fun routine you do together as a family; even something as simple as letting your little one choose their own toothbrush can get them excited about brushing their teeth.

9. Is flossing important for kids?

Yes, flossing is just as important for small children as it is for teens and adults. Flossing helps keep your gums healthy by preventing gum disease, which is an infection in your gums and the leading cause of tooth loss in America. Small children will find it difficult to floss on their own, so you should begin helping your child floss when they’re two or three years old—as soon as their teeth sit close enough together.

10. What foods should my child be eating for healthy teeth?

While you probably know which foods are bad for your child’s teeth, it might be a little harder to know which foods are good for them. A balanced diet is essential to help your little one build strong, healthy teeth, so fruits and vegetables are an important part of every meal and are always a great idea for snacks. They include a lot of vitamins and minerals your child needs for growing up strong and building healthy teeth, plus crunchy vegetables, like carrots and celery, can actually scrape plaque off your child’s teeth as they chew. Whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products also contain essential vitamins and minerals that are great for tooth and gum health.

We understand just how vital your child’s oral health is to their future oral and overall health, so our pediatric dentistry office puts your kids first; we want to help you care for your little one’s oral health on a daily basis, not just when we see them in the office. If you have any questions about your child’s oral health or would like to schedule an appointment for them, you can contact our office at any time.