Pediatric Dental Care FAQ

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Frequently Asked Questions About Pediatrics

Q: How can my child have good dental health?

A: First of all, parents should ensure that their children are consuming a well-balanced diet and not eating too many sugary or starchy foods. Between meals, kids should not drink anything from a sippy cup besides water. Children need help from adults with brushing and flossing until they are about 8 years old in order to reach difficult areas such as back teeth and the gumline. You can also ask your dentist to help you select foods that protect your children’s teeth and demonstrate proper oral hygiene methods at your child’s dental visit.


Q: What causes tooth decay?

A: Cavities occur when bacteria in the mouth are able to consume sugar and starches on the teeth. The acid by-products of the bacteria then attack the tooth enamel, which leaves a hole (cavity) in the tooth. The longer the cavity goes untreated, the larger it is allowed to grow, and the higher the likelihood that the child will experience pain.


Q: What is a pediatric dentist?

A: Pediatric dentists are the pediatricians of dentistry. Following dental school, our pediatric dentist, Dr. Beth Nelson, had two and half years of extra specialty training focused on the dental needs of children. Dr. Nelson limits her practice to treating infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health needs.


Q: What is “Baby Bottle Decay”?

A: “Baby Bottle Decay” or “Early Childhood Caries” occurs when a young child has cavities on their primary, or “baby” teeth. For many young children, this occurs as a result of being put to bed with a bottle of milk or formula, which allows the teeth to be exposed to sugar in the milk or formula for an extended period of time. The term “Early Childhood Caries” is more accurate because in recent years, many children have experienced this rampant attack of caries as a result of drinking juice or soda from a sippy cup frequently through the day. Infants should not nurse to sleep or have a bottle to go to sleep once they have teeth. If they do fall asleep while feeding, a wet washcloth should be used to quickly wash the teeth before they go to sleep for the night. Older children should not have anything to drink in a sippy cup between meals besides water in order to allow their mouths a chance to recover from the acids and sugars in food they consumed at meal or snack time.


Q: What is fluoride? When should my child have it?

A: Fluoride is a natural mineral found throughout the earth’s crust and widely distributed in nature. Some foods and water supplies contain fluoride.

Fluoride is often added to drinking water to help reduce tooth decay. In the 1930s, researchers found that people who grew up drinking naturally fluoridated water had up to two-thirds fewer cavities than people living in areas without fluoridated water. Studies since then have repeatedly shown that when fluoride is added to a community’s water supply, tooth decay decreases. The American Dental Association, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, among many other organizations, have endorsed the use of fluoride in water supplies because of its effect on tooth decay.

Starting at birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water. As soon as the teeth begin to appear, start brushing twice daily using fluoridated toothpaste and a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush. Use a “smear” of toothpaste to brush the teeth of a child less than 2 years of age. For the 2-5 year old, dispense a “pea-size” amount of toothpaste and perform or assist your child’s toothbrushing. Remember that young children do not have the ability to brush their teeth effectively. Children should spit out and not swallow excess toothpaste after brushing.


Q: At what age should my child first be seen by a dentist?

A: In order to prevent dental problems, your child should see a dentist when the first tooth appears, or no later than his/her first birthday. This allows the child to gradually become comfortable with the dental setting and to provide valuable parental education. It also gives the child a “dental home,” somewhere he or she can come should a dental problem arise due to decay or trauma.


Q: Why are baby teeth important?

A: Primary, or “baby” teeth are important because they allow children to eat, talk, and smile. They also hold the place for the permanent teeth which will erupt as the child gets older. Just like permanent teeth, primary teeth can become painful if allowed to decay. Ideally, primary teeth should be restored so the child can eat and talk comfortably, as well as maintain a healthy self-esteem. If primary teeth are lost early due to decay, a space maintainer should be placed to hold the room for the permanent teeth. Otherwise, the child may experience dental crowding later that requires major orthodontic treatment to correct.


Q: What can I do about teething pain?

A: Every child is unique, but some good ideas to help them through this painful time include chilled (not frozen) teething rings, or cool, wet washcloths to suck on. Children might also enjoy cold foods or some gum massage from a parent using a clean finger. Topical ointments should be avoided, as many contain benzocaine, a numbing agent that young children should not swallow. If a child has severe teething pain, Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen, and after 6 months of age) can be used, ensuring you are using the proper dosage for your baby’s size and age. Teething should not cause a fever over one degree above normal, so if your child has a high fever, do not assume it is related to teething. Rather, consult with your child’s physician to rule out other causes such as a virus or ear infection.

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