Children's Health and Wellness

Dental Health Overview

Picture of a young girl holding a tooth

Most pediatric dentists will agree that regular dental care should begin by 1 year of age, with a dental check-up at least twice each year after for most children. Some children may need more frequent evaluations and care. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends the following:

Birth to 6 months of age

  • Clean the infant's mouth with gauze or use a soft infant toothbrush after feedings and at bedtime.

  • Consult your child's pediatrician or pediatric dentist regarding fluoride supplements, if you live in an area without fluoridated water.

  • Also ask about fluoride varnish, which is applied to the teeth.

  • Regulate feeding habits (bottle-feeding and breastfeeding).

Six to 12 months of age

  • During this time, the first tooth should appear. Consult a pediatric dentist for an exam.

  • Brush teeth after each feeding and at bedtime with a small, soft-bristled brush and a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice.

  • As the child begins to walk, stay alert for potential dental and/or facial injuries.

  • Wean the child from the bottle by his or her first birthday. (If a woman breastfeeds her child, the AAPD recommends breastfeeding for at least 1 year. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least 2 years.) 

1 to 3 years of age

  • Follow the schedule of dental exams and cleanings, as recommended by your child's pediatric dentist. Generally, dental exams and cleanings are recommended every 6 months for children and adults.

  • At about age 3, as your child learns to rinse and spit, brushing with a pea-sized portion of fluoridated toothpaste is appropriate, in most cases.

Facts about baby teeth

  • Proper care of a child's "baby" or primary teeth is very important, as these teeth hold space for the future eruption of permanent teeth.

  • If a baby tooth decays or is removed too early, the space necessary for the permanent teeth is lost and can only be regained through orthodontic treatment.

  • Infected baby teeth can cause the permanent teeth to develop improperly resulting in stains, pits, and weaker teeth.

  • Primary teeth are important in speech development.

  • Primary teeth aid in chewing food properly, promoting healthy nutrition.

  • Most children begin losing their baby teeth around the ages of 5 or 6, with usually the front teeth first. They continue to lose baby teeth until the age of 12 or 13 when all of the permanent teeth finally come through, except for the third molars (wisdom teeth). These molars begin to appear around the ages of 17 to 21.

Diet and dental care for children

The AAPD recommends the following to ensure your child eats correctly to maintain a healthy body and teeth:

  • Ask your child's pediatric dentist to help you assess your child's diet.

  • Shop smart. Do not routinely stock your pantry with sugary or starchy snacks.

  • Buy "fun foods" just for special times.

  • Limit the number of snacks and choose nutritious snacks.

  • Provide a balanced diet, and save foods with sugar or starch for mealtimes.

  • Do not put your young child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice.

  • If your child chews gum or sips soda, choose those without sugar.

Online Source: American Academy of Pediatrics. Fluoride Use in Caries Prevention in the Primary Care Settinghttp://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/08/19/peds.2014-1699
Online Source: American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry http://www.aapd.org/assets/2/7/GetItDoneInYearOne.pdf
Online Source: American Dental Associationhttp://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/b/baby-teeth.aspx
Online Source: American Dental Associationhttp://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/e/eruption-charts.aspx
Online Source: American Dental Associationhttp://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids
Online Source: American Dental Associationhttp://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids/healthy-habits.aspx
Online Source: American Dental Associationhttp://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids/nutrition.aspx
Online Source: American Academy of Pediatric Dentistryhttp://www.mychildrensteeth.org/media/Policies_Guidelines/P_DietaryRec.pdf
Online Source: World Health Organizationhttp://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/
Online Source: American Academy of Pediatrics http://www2.aap.org/breastfeeding/faqsbreastfeeding.html
Online Editor: Kochman, Marilyn
Online Editor: Metzger, Geri K.
Online Medical Reviewer: Eakle, W. Stephan, DDS
Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Date Last Reviewed: 3/28/2013
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