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Keep Smiling

Answering the top questions about kids' dental health

For parents, there are few things more precious than their child's smile. But are you doing all you can to protect your child's pearly whites? Does your family's knowledge of proper dental hygiene stop and end with "brush your teeth before you go to bed"? If so, you're not alone. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about kids' dental health.

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When should I start brushing my child's teeth?

Before she even has them. Eventually your child will have a mouth full of pearly whites, but from the time she's born, it's important to pay attention to her gums. For infants, swab gums gently with warm water at least once a day, preferably right before bedtime.

Once those baby teeth start coming in, you can gently brush them with water and a soft brush in the morning and evening. Look for a toothpaste that's made especially for babies and toddlers; fluoride toothpaste should wait until your child is between two and three. Kids should also be supervised during toothbrushing to be sure they spit all of the toothpaste out.

When should I start taking my child to the dentist?

The American Dental Association recommends taking your child for their first dental visit by the time your child turns one. This early visit is more about getting a child used to visiting the dentist's chair than about cleaning those baby teeth, but the dentist will probably conduct a brief exam while you hold your child and explain proper dental hygiene techniques for your child. Waiting too long for that first dental visit may open the door to tooth decay and other problems.

How will I know if my child needs braces?

You might not be able to tell until all of those permanent teeth come in. However, x-rays can help determine permanent tooth placement before they break through, and there may be preventative measures your dentist and orthodontist can take to help reduce that orthodontic burden later on. Other issues like crossbite, where the position of the jaw can be adjusted before permanent teeth come in, can be treated in young children.

My child fell down and knocked out a tooth. What should we do?

If it's a baby tooth, you might not need to visit a dentist right away. Rinse out your child's mouth with water and make sure your dentist is aware of what happened. If it will be quite some time before the permanent tooth will come in, your dentist might make a false tooth to fill the space. Your dentist will also monitor the permanent tooth to make sure it continues to develop properly.

If your child knocked out a permanent tooth, visit the dentist immediately! Try to find the missing tooth – the dentist might be able to reattach it. If possible, have your child hold the tooth in place until you can get to the dentist, or place it in a glass of milk (this can help preserve the tooth until the dentist can determine whether or not it can be saved).