Top Tips For Infant Dental Care

1.  At what age should a child first visit the dentist?
In order to truly focus on a prevention based approach to dental health, it is important for the child’s first visit to be around the first birthday.  Some kids that are one may only have 4-6 teeth in their mouth, but starting the conversation at this stage and discussing diet, hygiene, home-care, brushing techniques, tooth brush sizes, etc. at this age is the foundation towards a ‘no cavity’ child.

2.  What is the best way to prepare a child for a dentist visit?
The best thing you can do is NOT over-prepare your child for their first dental visit.  Children know when parents are anxious and your anxiousness will unknowingly brush off on your child.  Treat the dental visit like any other adventure that your child might embark on, a first hair-cut, a first visit to the swimming pool or a visit to a new friend’s house. Explaining simply that they were going to meet the dentist and the dentist helps us keep our teeth clean is enough.  If your first visit is when the child is older, then perhaps reading a book about going to the dentist might help.

3.  What advice do you give to parents of children who seem afraid of the dentist?
Our generation is afraid of the dentist because of our own biasesInfant cleans teeth and experiences.  Dentistry has changed so much over the years and there is NO reason for pain/discomfort anymore.  Allowing your child to have their own dental experience and not ‘brainwashing’ them with your own opinions will give them the foundation to be more accepting and excited about their first encounter at the dental office.  Research your provider instead, find a reputable children’s dental office and trust the dental team to lead the way.  This will make all the difference towards your child’s attitude towards their own teeth and health.

4.  When searching for a pediatric dentist, what are some questions a parent should ask?
Children do best in an environment that is meant for children.  Although family dentists are completely capable of seeing children, sometimes it is intimidating for a child to walk into an office that might cater to both adults and children.  A Pediatric dentist in addition to being a dentist has had at least 2-years of additional training in managing infants and children including child psychology, behavior management and age-appropriate modifications in treatment.  Parents should find research a pediatric dentist online to ensure that their personal philosophy is in line with that of the office that will take care of their child’s teeth.  Visit the office and allow yourself and your staff to be open to the first visit.  Listen, observe the interaction, recommendations, follow-up and then you will know if that office is for your family.  If not, find a better fit elsewhere.

5.  Can you offer parents some tips on how to encourage lifelong healthy dental habits in their children?
Dental decay is a preventable condition, yet it is the second most common illness of childhood.  In general, a healthy diet, high in fiber and low in sugars, drinking water after meals/snacks, daily brushing with an age-appropriate tooth paste and brush and simple and extremely effective ways to get started on the right step towards a lifetime of healthy teeth.  But remember that every child is different and there are often child-specific recommendations that your pediatric dentist will discuss with you based on the genetic predisposition for certain conditions, anatomical position of the teeth and oral habits that your child might have.

6.  What should be used to clean baby’s first teeth?
Baby teeth need the same care that adult teeth need. Cavity causing bacteria don’t know the difference between one tooth or another.  A baby tooth needs to be brushed, just like an adult tooth does.  As soon as the tooth comes into the mouth, it is susceptible to decay. Your pediatric dental office should guide you find an age-appropriate tooth brush for your child. (Finger brush when there are no teeth, then a ring brush for the front teeth only and finally different stage brushes for every age depending on which teeth are present and how closer the teeth are).  Until then, at the very least, use a wet wash-cloth to wipe the teeth after every feed/meal.

7.  How often should a child visit the dentist?
In general, with this prevention based approach in mind, your child should visit a dentist two times per year, usually every 6-months.  But again, this is different for every child. Children at low risk for decay don’t need visits as often and those with high risk or special needs might need three or more prevention based visits in their early years to ensure that home care is consistent with the risk for future problems.

8.  We’re ready for the truth: how bad are bottles and pacifiers for children’s teeth?
Bottles are NOT bad for children.  It is the contents of the bottle that cause tooth problems.  Children under age 2 that use a bottle filled with milk/juice and are allowed to drink several times a day without then having a method for cleaning the teeth afterwards, cause for carbohydrates and mild food acids from these beverages to be surrounding the soft enamel of the baby teeth.  When this continues for several days/weeks/months, cavities are inevitable.  Milk pools around the teeth since not every last drop is swallowed by a young child, causing the problem.  For a young child pacifiers don’t cause any long-term dental effects unless children continue to use them persistently beyond age 4.  Again this is very child specific, effect of the bottle/pacifier is based on frequency, duration and intensity of use and shape/size of the nipple.

9.  What foods are the worst in terms of causing cavities?
Higher the carbohydrate and sugar content of the foods, higher the risk for cavities.  The problem doesn’t seem to be eating these foods, the problem appears to be the foods sitting on the teeth and in between the teeth long after the child is finished with eating them.  We all know that hard candy and sweet beverages cause cavities because cavity causing bacteria love to live on these foods.  What is important to note that ‘healthy’ foods like dry cereal, crackers, raisins, dates, etc. are sometimes a higher contributor do decay because they tend to ‘stick’ on the teeth.  Please DO make sure your child gets these healthy foods, but then please also DO make sure that the foods are brushed off the teeth as soon as possible to avoid attracting cavity causing bacteria to feed on them.

Purva picDr. Purva Merchant is a board certified Pediatric Dental specialist, with two private children’s dental practices in the Greater Seattle area.  She is passionate about an education and prevention based approach towards dental health to ensure a lifetime of smiles for all children!
Check out her website at