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When Should Kids Start Going to the Dentist? (Baby Teeth FAQ)

This is for information only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this websiteFull disclaimer here.

When it comes to baby teeth, parents may have a lot of questions. And, once that first tooth pops in, many wonder when their baby should start seeing a dentist. Today’s post answers that question. I’ll also cover other frequently asked questions about caring for a child’s teeth (all from the perspective of a general pediatrician).

When does my child need their first dental appointment?

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommend babies see a dentist as soon as they start getting teeth, and no later than age 1 year. 

In other words, all kids should have had their first appointment by their first birthday. This may not be possible in all communities, so I would advise any parents to make sure they mention teeth at their child’s one-year-old check up with their pediatrician.

What kind of dentist should children see?

In my anecdotal and personal experience, it’s worth it to see a pediatric dentist if possible. Yes, there are many a wonderful general dentist. However, there is something special about an office where every interaction and staff member is equipped and enthused about working with children. Even simple things like a kid-friendly waiting room or a small prize or sticker after a child’s first dental appointment can make things easier on your little one. 

This is not even mentioning the additional training and expertise that pediatric dentists have. They are the true specialists on children’s teeth. They’re experts on both baby teeth and the permanent teeth that will eventually grow in. 

A child’s first dental visit is usually gentle and informative. Many dentists do the entire dental exam with the toddler sitting in their parent’s lap, avoiding the dentist’s chair altogether if possible. I spoke with one dentist who said his goal is for kids to look forward to each dental checkup. This is more likely if kids have been having pleasant regular visits from an early age. 

It’s also a great time for kids to see dental tools for the first time and to ask child-specific questions, like those regarding pacifier use or future dental sealants. 

2 Other Reasons to Have a Child’s First Dental Visit by Age 12 Months

  • Aside from a general checkup and family education, the dentist can detect any early signs of decay and offer tailored recommendations. 
  • Secondly, it’s nice to be established with a dentist before there is any emergent need. Some families appreciate already knowing who to call if their little one has an unexpected tooth injury or other dental problems.

When do babies start teething?

On average, babies get their first tooth at around age 7 months. Some babies are born with teeth. Some don’t get their first tooth until beyond their first year. It’s a wide range of “normal.” As soon as a baby has teeth, dental hygiene must begin in earnest (more on that below).

When should I start brushing my baby’s teeth in order to prevent early childhood cavities?

Before they have teeth, it’s reasonable to wipe their gums and tongue regularly with a clean wet cloth. As mentioned earlier, tooth brushing needs to start as soon as a child’s first tooth pops through the gums. This means using a soft-bristled toothbrush and brushing with fluoride-containing toothpaste. Fluoride helps prevent cavities. Ideally, they’ll brush after breakfast and at night after their last solid food.

For children under age 3 years, the AAP recommends a smear of toothpaste smaller than a grain of rice. At these young ages, toddlers and babies will probably swallow the toothpaste. The amount is considered safe for twice daily brushing. A big benefit of the fluoride in toothpaste comes when it actually touches the teeth. So, gently brushing on all exposed teeth will help.

 Please note that this is general information. Many cities have fluoridated water. Some kids take vitamins with fluoride. Some dentists and pediatricians apply a fluoride treatment directly to teeth during appointments. Because there are a few variables, it’s a great conversation to have with your child’s pediatrician or your child’s dentist.

Over 3 years of age, or when a child can reliably spit, the amount of toothpaste can increase to about the size of a pea. Kids should then spit out the excess toothpaste.

Is my baby teething right now?

This is a really common question! As I told many parents, sometimes the first sign of teething is . . . a tooth! Some kids don’t show many symptoms. And, some have all the classic signs of chewing on things more, fussiness and swollen gums. Here are things I would love for all families to know:

First, many babies at around age 3-4 months of age start to look more “drooly.” You might see more strings of saliva than before. They shouldn’t have any trouble breathing or swallowing, but rather they’re just a bit more drippy. By about 6 months, they’ve been putting their hands (and toys) in their mouths more too. Both things can happen even if they’re not teething.

Second, a fever (more than 100.4 F) is not due to teething. Ever. If a child has a fever, please address it like a “real” fever and don’t ignore it by just thinking it’s teething.

(If you think your child is uncomfortable due to teething, please chat with your pediatrician or dentist about the best approach. Many times chewing or sucking on a cold wet towel provides as much relief as anything else. It’s like a little cool massage. And, there’s no evidence behind amber beads for teething).

Do childhood cavities really matter? They’re just baby teeth.

Yes. Aside from the obvious pain and discomfort for kids with tooth decay, there are bigger risks too. Let’s pause a moment, though. Pain and discomfort are real issues that we should try to prevent. Tooth pain can lead to missed school, poor sleep, and a restricted diet, just to name a few things.

Early childhood cavities can affect a person’s health overall. This means, if a child has cavities, they usually need to be addressed (I’ll leave it to my dentist colleagues for details of when and how). For many young children, dental procedures happen under anesthesia. While often done safely, it’s an added risk that can be avoided with good dental care.

Caring for baby teeth sets the stage for a lifetime of healthy teeth and healthy oral tissues. 

Do I need to stop breastfeeding once my baby has teeth?

No, you do not need to stop. If a baby has latched properly, they can safely breastfeed without any issues. With a proper latch, their teeth don’t come into contact with the nipple. (Biting just before or after feeds is another issue entirely. Kellymom.com has a helpful article on the topic).

For information on preventing cavities in babies who breastfeed at night, see this post. (The risk of cavities may not be what you expect). 

What else can I do to keep my kids’ teeth healthy?

Okay, full disclosure here. Few people ever asked me this question. So, I’ll offer the following unsolicited:

Children and babies do not need to drink juice or soda. By simply removing sugary drinks from their diets, we’ll go a long way in preventing tooth decay. If a child needs to drink juice for a specific reason (constipation for example), they can drink it in one sitting. Sipping on sugar all day is not good for teeth. Cavities come from bacteria plus sugar. So, if we eliminate extra sugar? It makes a big difference. After age 1 year, water is enough. As a reminder, babies should not drink plain water before solids are introduced.

Summary: Children visiting the dentist by age one sets the stage for a lifelong healthy smile. 

Most kids can have healthy teeth with just a few steps at home. It helps to brush with fluoridated toothpaste twice a day and avoid extra sugar. Children should also establish care with a dentist by age one year.

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I may earn a small commission on qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

(If you’re interested in more baby FAQ, please check out my newborn booklet, available on Amazon):

Maya M. Mahmood, D.O., FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician and mom. She is passionate about parents having evidence-based information to help their families be healthier.

Photo by amirhosein esmaeili on Unsplash.

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