Pediatric Dental FAQs

Below are common questions and our answers about the best way to care for children’s teeth.

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

We recommend that you make an appointment to see the dentist as soon as your son or daughter gets that first tooth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children be seen by six months after their first tooth erupts, or at one year of age, whichever comes first.

How is a pediatric dentist different from other dentists?

All dental specialists (pediatric dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, and others) begin by completing dental school, then continue their education with several years of additional specialized training.

For training in the field of pediatric dentistry, Drs. James and Okerstrom gained extensive knowledge and experience in treating infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatric dentists enjoy working with children, and bring to each patient our expertise in childhood development and behavior.

Because our office is geared toward young visitors, you’ll find that our staff, as well as our office design, decorations, and activities, all work together to provide an especially friendly and comfortable environment for children.

What happens during my little one’s first visit to the dentist?

The first visit is usually short and simple. In most cases, we focus on getting to know your child and giving you some basic information about dental care.

The doctor will check your youngster’s teeth for placement and health, and look for any potential problems with the gums and jaw. If necessary, we may do a bit of cleaning.

We will also answer any questions you have about how to care for your child’s teeth as they develop, and provide you with materials containing helpful tips you can refer to at home.

How can I prepare my child for the first dental appointment?

The best preparation for your child’s first visit to our office is to maintain a positive attitude. Children pick up on adults’ apprehensions, and if you make negative comments about trips to the dentist, you can be sure your son or daughter will anticipate an unpleasant experience and act accordingly.

Show your child the pictures of the office and staff on the website. Let him or her know it’s essential to keep the teeth and gums healthy, and the doctor will help to do that. Remember that Dr. James and Dr. Okerstrom are specially trained to handle fears and anxiety, and our staff excels at putting children at ease during treatment.

How often should my child visit the dentist?

We generally recommend scheduling a checkup every six months. Depending on the circumstances of your child’s oral health, we may recommend more frequent visits.

Baby teeth aren’t permanent; why do they need special care?

Although they don’t last as long as permanent teeth, your child’s first teeth play a vital role in development. While they’re in place, the primary teeth help your little one speak, smile, and chew properly. They also hold space in the jaw for permanent teeth.

If a child loses a tooth too early (due to damage or decay), nearby teeth may encroach on that space, which can result in crooked or misplaced permanent teeth. Also, your child’s general health is affected by the oral health of the teeth and gums.

What’s the best way to clean my baby's teeth?

Even before your baby’s first tooth appears, we recommend you clean the gums after feedings with a damp, soft washcloth. As soon as the first tooth appears, you can start using a toothbrush. Select a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head. You most likely can find one designed for infants at your local drugstore.

At what age is it appropriate to use toothpaste to clean my child’s teeth?

Once your son or daughter has a few teeth, you can start using toothpaste on the brush. Use only a tiny amount for each cleaning, and be sure to choose toothpaste without fluoride for children under two, because too much fluoride can be dangerous for very young children.

Always have your child rinse and spit out toothpaste after brushing, to begin a lifelong habit he or she will need when after graduating to fluoride toothpaste. Children naturally want to swallow toothpaste after brushing, but swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can cause teeth to stain.

You should brush your child’s teeth for him or her until the youngster is ready to take on that responsibility, which usually happens by age six or seven.

What causes cavities?

Certain types of bacteria live in our mouths. When these bacteria come into contact with sugary foods left behind on our teeth after eating, acids are produced. These acids attack the enamel on the exterior of the teeth, and eventually eat through the enamel and create holes in the teeth, which we call cavities.

How can I help my child avoid cavities?

Make sure that your little one brushes his or her teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Flossing daily is also important, because flossing can reach spots between the teeth that brushing can’t. Check with us about a fluoride supplement that can help tooth enamel become harder and more resistant to decay.

Avoid sugary foods and drinks, limit snacking, and maintain a healthy diet. And finally, make regular appointments so we can check the health of your child’s teeth and provide professional cleanings.

Does my child need dental sealants?

Sealants cover the pits and fissures in teeth that are difficult to brush and therefore susceptible to decay. We recommend sealants as a safe, simple way to help your son or daughter avoid cavities, especially for molars, which are hardest to reach.

My child plays sports; how can I protect his or her teeth?

Even children’s sports involve contact nowadays, so we recommend mouthguards for children active in sports. If your little one plays baseball, soccer, or other sports, ask us about having a custom-fitted mouthguard made to protect the teeth, lips, cheeks, and gums.

What should I do if my child sucks a thumb?

The large majority of children suck their thumbs or fingers as infants, and most grow out of it by the age of four without causing any permanent damage to their teeth. If your child continues sucking after permanent teeth erupt, or if he or she sucks aggressively, let us know and we can check to see if any problems may arise from the habit.

When should my child have dental X-rays taken?

We recommend taking X-rays around the age of two or three. The first set consists of simple pictures of the front upper and lower teeth, which familiarizes your child with the process.

Once the baby teeth in back are touching one another, then regular (at least yearly) X-rays are recommended. Permanent teeth start coming in around age six, and X-rays help us make sure your youngster’s teeth and jaw are healthy and properly aligned.

If your child is at a high risk of dental problems, we may suggest having X-rays taken at an earlier age.

Back to top