Dental Care for Infants and Children

When should dental care begin?

Most pediatric dentists will agree that regular dental care should begin by 1 year of age, with a dental check-up at least twice each year for most children. Some children may need check-ups more often. This dental checklist for infants and toddlers is from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD):

Birth to 6 months old

  • Clean your baby's mouth with water and a cloth or gauze or use a soft infant toothbrush after feedings and at bedtime.

  • Consult your child's healthcare provider about the use of fluoride supplements, if you live in an area without fluoridated water.

  • Also ask about fluoride varnish that can be applied to the teeth.

  • Establish regular feeding habits (bottle feeding and breastfeeding).

6 to 12 months old

  • During this time, the first tooth should appear. Consult the pediatric dentist for an exam as soon as the first tooth comes in, but no later than your child's first birthday.

  • Brush teeth after each feeding and at bedtime with a small, soft-bristled brush. Use a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice.

  • As your child begins to walk, stay alert of possible dental or facial injuries.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastmilk for at least 6 months. The AAPD recommends breastfeeding for at least 1 year. At about 1 year, continue to breastfeed or begin weaning as you and your baby are ready. But also start giving your baby whole milk. The fat in whole milk is needed for brain development.

1 to 3 years old

  • Follow the schedule of dental exams and cleanings, as recommended by your child's pediatric dentist. Generally, dental exams and cleanings are recommended every 6 months for children and adults.

  • At about age 3, as your child learns to rinse and spit, brushing with a pea-sized portion of fluoridated toothpaste is best.

Facts about baby teeth

Picture of a young girl holding a tooth in her palm.

Correct care of a child's baby teeth (also known as primary teeth) is very important. These teeth hold space for the future adult (permanent) teeth.

  • If a baby tooth decays or is removed too early, the space for the permanent teeth is lost and can only be regained through orthodontic treatment.

  • Infected baby teeth can cause the permanent teeth to develop incorrectly, resulting in stains, pits, and weaker teeth.

  • Baby teeth are important in speech development.

  • Baby teeth aid in chewing food correctly, promoting healthy nutrition.

Most children begin losing their baby teeth around the ages 5 or 6. Children often lose the front teeth first. They continue to lose baby teeth until the age of 12 or 13 when all of the permanent teeth finally come through, except for the third molars (wisdom teeth). These molars begin to appear around age 17 to 21.

Diet and dental care for children

The AAPD recommends the following to be sure your child eats correctly to maintain a healthy body and teeth:

  • Ask your pediatric dentist to help you assess your child's diet.

  • Shop smart. Don't normally stock your pantry with sugary or starchy snacks. Buy "fun foods" just for special times.

  • Limit the number of snack times. Choose healthy snacks.

  • Provide a balanced diet, and save foods with sugar or starch for mealtimes.

  • Don't put your young child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice.

  • If your child chews gum or sips soda, choose those without sugar.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Eakle, W. Stephan, DDS
Online Medical Reviewer: Kapner, Michael, DDS
Last Review Date: 4/1/2018
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