Ask the Pediatric Dentist

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, so now is a great time to think about your child’s smile and the health of their pearly whites. To find out more about kids’ dental health, we asked Indianapolis-area pediatric dentists some of our most pressing dental questions.

For general questions about dental care, we spoke to Dr. Katie Peterson, DDS, of Prime Smile, and Dr. K. Blair Bumgardner, board-certified pediatric dentist with Kid’s Dentistree.

When should I schedule my child’s first visit to the dentist?

Peterson: In order to prevent dental problems, your child should see a dentist when the first tooth appears, or no later than their first birthday.

How can I prepare my child for their first dentist visit?

Bumgardner: If possible, schedule morning appointments so young children are alert and fresh. Prepare a preschooler or older child for the visit by giving them a general idea of what to expect. Explain why it is important to go to the dentist. Build excitement and understanding. There are many different cartoon shows and children’s books that aid in explaining what to expect when going to the dentist.

Baby teeth aren’t permanent, so why should we worry about caring for them?

Peterson: Primary, or “baby,” teeth are important for many reasons. Not only do they help children speak clearly and chew naturally, they also aid in forming a path that permanent teeth can follow when they are ready to erupt. Some baby teeth remain in the mouth for up to 12 years of age.

When should we begin using toothpaste, and how much?

Bumgardner: American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend using fluoride toothpaste for young children as soon as teeth appear. Use a smear (or roughly the size of a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste for children from tooth eruption through age 2, and increase this to a pea-sized amount of toothpaste for children ages 3-6.

When should my child begin flossing?

Peterson: Many children have spaces between their baby teeth, and this is normal. Your child should begin flossing once any two teeth contact each other, as a toothbrush will not be able to clean in between them. It will likely require a parent to complete the task properly.

How can I prevent tooth decay in my baby who nurses or bottle feeds to sleep?

Bumgardner: The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a few days after birth, begin wiping your baby’s gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth every day. Then, brush their teeth twice a day as soon as that first tooth emerges.

For all-things braces and orthodontics, we spoke to Tasha Hall, DMD, MSD, of Hallmark Orthodontics and Rigsbee Hall Orthodontics.

Do I need to wait until my child’s permanent teeth are in before thinking about braces?

You do not! In fact, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children be evaluated by an orthodontist by the age of 7. By this age, an orthodontist is able to identify possible problems in growth and development that may require early orthodontic intervention.

Is there an ideal age to start orthodontics?

It varies for each individual. Some children will need an early phase of orthodontics around ages 7 to 10 years, and then transition to a secondary phase when they are in their full permanent teeth. Others may only require comprehensive care. What is most important is that a child is consecutively monitored so that an orthodontist is able to treat when the child’s dental development is most appropriate for their particular treatment needs.

Can teeth straighten themselves as a child grows?

There is a period of dental development many dentists or orthodontists refer to as the “ugly duckling” stage prior to the eruption of your child’s permanent canines or eye-teeth. You may see a gap in the front of your child’s mouth and some misalignment of the lateral incisors. It is possible that these teeth push together with the eruption of the permanent cuspids, but it’s not always likely that the teeth come into an ideal bite. It’s important that X-rays be evaluated in order to identify the position of the erupting canines and their probability of eruption.

How long will my child have to wear braces?

The length of orthodontic treatment will be specific to the orthodontic needs of each patient. Some minor cases may take a few months, whereas comprehensive cases can take years to complete. What is most important is discussing the length of treatment prior to starting, as well as maintaining all expected visits, keeping your appliances clean and intact, and communicating any issues or concerns you may have with your orthodontist.

What should parents look for when selecting a reputable orthodontist for their child?

Speak with your general dentist or pediatric dentist, as well as peers and family. You should be able to communicate with your provider and feel comfortable with the plan provided. It may be important for your family to research financial options within your community, as well. All orthodontists have been trained in the specialty and have advanced degrees in straightening and moving teeth beyond dental school. It is worth the effort to find a specialist that will help you achieve your end goal!


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