Common Children’s Dental Care Questions


Why are baby teeth important?

Primary or “baby” teeth are there for a reason. They need to be cared for and properly maintained for good oral health. Baby teeth hold space for permanent teeth and aid in forming a path that permanent teeth can follow when they are ready to erupt. Problems with baby teeth can result in problems for permanent teeth. In fact, the very best predictor of cavities in permanent teeth is a cavity history in baby teeth! Primary teeth also play a role in nutrition, speech, and social interaction. Children need their teeth as much as adults do to chew and smile.
Untreated tooth decay can lead to:

Pain – Which may then lead to missed school, difficulty eating and even malnutrition.
Infection – Baby teeth can become infected, causing damage to the developing permanent teeth and may lead to swelling or abscess.
Space Loss – If baby teeth are removed due to decay before the adult teeth arrive, shifting of the teeth can occur, which may lead to serious crowding in the future.

How often should my child visit the dentist?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a dental checkup at least twice a year for most children. Some children need more frequent dental visits because of increased risk of tooth decay, unusual growth patterns, or inadequate oral hygiene at home. Dr. Laura will help you decide the best path for your child dental care.

Can I stay with my child during the visit?

Yes, you are welcome to accompany your child in our treatment areas. We feel that it is important for us to educate you, as well as your child, on how to care for their teeth at home. Our goal is to develop a long-term relationship with you both. We feel that this makes for the very best health care — in our case, outstanding dentistry for children!

What will happen during the dental visit?

Dr. Laura will:

  • Check the gums for inflammation
  • Examine the mouth for indications of disease
  • Examine jaw joints for any irregularities in form and function
  • Note any irregularities in facial structure, bite, arch form, and tooth spacing
  • Clean the teeth of plaque, tartar, and stains
  • Recommend dietary modifications, if necessary
  • Show your child how to best clean their teeth at home
  • Encourage your child to practice good dental hygiene habits at home

If you ever have questions about home dental care, please ask for our guidance!

Is there anything that can be done to make sure that my child’s teeth come in straight?

A complete evaluation of your child’s dental care, including potential orthopedic and orthodontic conditions, will be evaluated each continuing care visit. Occasionally early treatments such as space maintenance, arch development, and eruption guidance may be recommended to allow for the normal eruption of the permanent teeth.

What is dental caries?

Dental caries (also known as tooth decay) is a disease process that causes the breakdown of hard tooth structure and leads to a cavity. When your child eats and drinks, certain types of bacteria in the mouth create acid from the foods and fluids left on the teeth. This acid demineralizes or weakens the tooth enamel. In healthy mouths, the time between meals allows minerals from the saliva to become incorporated into the teeth, remineralizing the enamel and reversing the damage from the acid. However, in unhealthy mouths where there is an abundance of bacteria and a high incidence of carbohydrate consumption, the enamel never remineralizes and instead develops decay. The more you can clean your child’s teeth and give the teeth time between food and drink consumption to recover, the better the chance their teeth will be healthy, strong, and free of cavities.

How can I prevent my child from getting cavities?

  • Take care of your own teeth!  – You are your child’s best role model.
  • Brush! Begin brushing your child’s teeth twice a day as soon as the first tooth comes in. We strongly recommend that a parent continues to help a child to brush and floss until their child is at least eight years of age.
  • Floss! Any adjacent teeth that are touching are ready for flossing!
  • Start early with good dietary habits! Feed your child healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and protein.  As children become older, they tend to become more independent and often increase their snacking and drinking of sugary liquids. We recommend that parents stay diligent and continue to monitor their child’s nutrition, snacking habits, and oral hygiene.
  • Help keep your child hydrated by offering water to drink between meals! It is no coincidence that we see a lot of tooth decay in children who drink a lot of juice. We highly recommend that juices/sweet drinks be limited and the child be given plain water freely throughout the day. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice consumption to four to six ounces per day.
  • Continue to schedule and keep regular continuing care appointments for your child.

What are sealants?

Sealants are a thin protective coating that is painted on the tooth surface to fill the grooves and pits – where more than 80% of decay is found in children. The coating is hardened to protect the tooth surface from decay. Sealants are a great option for the prevention of dental caries because they act as a physical barrier to food, plaque, and acid.

How can xylitol help reduce cavities?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recognizes the benefits of xylitol on oral health. Xylitol protects the teeth from tooth decay by preventing cavity-causing bacteria from sticking to the teeth. Studies using xylitol as either a sugar substitute or a small dietary addition have demonstrated a dramatic reduction in new tooth decay.  By consuming three to five doses of xylitol per day, the number of acid-producing bacteria may fall as much as 80%. Xylitol is a natural sweetener, some of the best sources are fruits, berries, mushrooms, lettuce, hardwoods, and corn cobs.  Look for gum or other products containing 100% xylitol, such as Spry or Dr. Johns xylitol products.

What are space maintainers?

A space maintainer saves room in the mouth for the adult teeth when the baby teeth have been lost too early. Ideally, baby teeth should be preserved until the adult teeth begin to erupt. When baby teeth must be removed due to extensive cavities or injury, a space maintainer may be necessary. If placed, the space maintainer should be evaluated at every checkup appointment and should be removed when the adult teeth are visible.

Does Your Child Grind His Teeth At Night? (Bruxism)

Parents are often concerned about the nocturnal grinding of teeth (bruxism). Often, the first indication is the noise created by the child grinding on their teeth during sleep. Or, the parent may notice wear (teeth getting shorter) to the dentition. One theory as to the cause involves a psychological component. Stress due to a new environment, divorce, changes at school, etc. can influence a child to grind their teeth. Another theory relates to pressure in the inner ear at night. If there are pressure changes (like in an airplane during take-off and landing, when people are chewing gum, etc. to equalize pressure), the child will grind by moving his jaw to relieve this pressure.

The majority of cases of pediatric bruxism do not require any treatment. If excessive wear of the teeth (attrition) is present, then a mouth guard (night guard) may be indicated. The negatives to a mouth guard are the possibility of choking if the appliance becomes dislodged during sleep and it may interfere with the growth of the jaws. The positive is obvious by preventing wear to the primary dentition.

The good news is most children outgrow bruxism. The grinding decreases between the ages 6-9 and children tend to stop grinding between ages 9-12. If you suspect bruxism, discuss this with your pediatrician or pediatric dentist.

Adult Teeth Coming in Behind Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth – This is a very common occurrence with children, usually the result of a lower, primary (baby) tooth not falling out when the permanent tooth is coming in. In most cases, if the child starts wiggling the baby tooth, it will usually fall out on its own within two months. If it doesn’t, then contact your pediatric dentist, where they can easily remove the tooth. The permanent tooth should then slide into the proper place.

Do you have a question that is not answered here? We would love to help! Please call St. Johns Pediatric Dentistry for Children at (904) 808-4700, email us at, or stop by our office!

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