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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Basic Dental Care
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Basic dental care involves brushing and flossing your teeth regularly, seeing your dentist and/or dental hygienist for regular checkups and cleanings, and eating a mouth-healthy diet, which means foods high in whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and dairy products.
Practicing basic dental care:
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy requires good nutrition and regular brushing and flossing.
By the time your child is 6 months of age, your doctor should assess the likelihood of your child having future dental problems. If he or she thinks your child will have dental problems, be sure your child sees a dentist before his or her first birthday or 6 months after the first primary teeth appear, whichever comes first. After your first visit, schedule regular visits every 6 months or as your dentist recommends.
Experts recommend that your child's visits to a dentist start within 6 months after the first teeth appear or at 12 months of age, whichever comes first. If your baby has dental problems caused by injury, disease, or a developmental problem, see your pediatric dentist right away.
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A child's dental care really starts with his or her mother's healthy pregnancy, because baby teeth begin to form before birth. If you are pregnant, make sure to eat a balanced, nutritious diet and get an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals. It's important for pregnant women to have a complete dental exam and have any cavities or gum disease treated.
Your child's first teeth (primary teeth) usually begin to break through the gums (erupt) at about 6 months of age, although the timing varies among children. All of the 20 primary teeth should come in between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. Your child will lose his or her primary teeth between the ages of 6 and 11. For more information, see the topic Teething.
Your child's first permanent teeth (molars) usually erupt behind the primary teeth at about age 6. The last permanent teeth usually erupt between the ages of 12 and 21.
See more information on your child's tooth development.
By the time your child is 6 months of age, your doctor should assess the likelihood of your child having future dental problems. This may include a dental exam of the mother and her dental history, as the condition of her teeth can often predict her child's teeth. If the doctor thinks your child will have dental problems, be sure your child sees a dentist by his or her first birthday or 6 months after the first primary teeth appear, whichever comes first. After your first visit, schedule regular visits every 6 months or as your dentist recommends.
Experts recommend that your child's visits to a dentist start within 6 months after the first teeth appear or at 12 months of age, whichever comes first. Babies with dental problems caused by injury, disease, or a developmental problem should be seen by a children's (pediatric) dentist right away. If these dental problems are not limited to the surfaces of the teeth, your baby should also be seen by a children's doctor (pediatrician) or your family doctor.
For more information, see the topic:
It's best to start good oral health habits before permanent teeth come in.
The following are some concerns that many people have about going to the dentist and dental care:
The following are some concerns about what might happen at the dentist's office:
The following are some concerns about dental care for children:
Note: Fluoride is safe in the amounts provided in water supplies but can be toxic in large amounts. Toxic levels depend on your child's weight. A lethal dose of fluoride for a 3-year-old child is 500 mg and is even less for a younger child or infant. Keep all products containing fluoride, such as toothpastes and mouthwashes, away from children. If you think your child may have swallowed too much fluoride, call your local poison control center or the National Poison Control Hotline right away at 1-800-222-1222.
Your dentist will recommend how often to have routine checkups. Many people should see their dentists once or twice a year. Your dentist will examine your teeth and gums for signs of tooth decay, gingivitis, and other health problems.
Developing good dental health habits is the best way to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Older adults may have special concerns about dentures, and those with arthritis may have trouble holding a toothbrush.
For information about when to call the doctor if you have a tooth or gum problem, see the topics Toothache and Gum Problems and Mouth Problems, Noninjury.
Floss at least once a day. The type of floss you use is not important. Choose the type and flavor that you like best. Use any of the following methods:
Gently work the floss between the teeth toward the gums. Curve the floss around each tooth into a U-shape, and gently slide it under the gum line. Move the floss firmly up and down several times to scrape off the plaque. Popping the floss in and out between the teeth without scraping will not remove much plaque and can hurt your gums.
You may want to try electric cleaning devices (interdental cleaning devices or interdental brushes) that are made to clean between your teeth. They can be as effective as using dental floss.
If your gums bleed when you floss, the bleeding should stop as your gums become healthier and tighter next to your teeth.
It is also important to stop using tobacco products. Using any tobacco product makes it more likely you will have mouth cancer or gum disease (periodontal disease). Using tobacco can also delay healing after you have a tooth pulled or other surgery on your teeth or mouth.footnote 1 Tobacco use also causes bad breath and stains your teeth and tongue.
American Dental Association (2009). ADA policy on cigarettes and other tobacco products. Available online: http://www.ada.org/news/929.aspx.
Robinson PG, et al. (2005). Manual versus powered toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2). Oxford: Update Software.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (2009). Policy on the use of dental bleaching for child and adolescent patients. Available online: http://www.aapd.org/media/Policies_Guidelines/P_Bleaching.pdf.
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (2012). Policy on the dental home. Available online: http://www.aapd.org/media/Policies_Guidelines/P_DentalHome.pdf.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Preventive oral health intervention for pediatricians. Pediatrics, 122(6): 1387-1394. Available online: http://www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/full/122/6/1387.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2014). Policy statement: Maintaining and improving the oral health of young children. Pediatrics, 134(6): 1224–1229. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2014-2984. Accessed January 6, 2015.
Campbell PR (2009). Topical fluoride therapy. In NO Harris et al., eds., Primary Preventive Dentistry, 7th ed., pp. 245–271. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Clark MB, et al. (2014). Fluoride use in caries prevention in the primary care setting. Pediatrics, 134(3): 626–633. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2014-1699. Accessed October 3, 2014.
Douglass JM, et al. (2004). A practical guide to infant oral health. American Family Physician, 70(11): 2113–2120.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Council on Clinical Affairs (1967, revised 2014). Policy on use of fluoride. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. http://www.aapd.org/media/Policies_Guidelines/P_FluorideUse.pdf. Accessed October 3, 2014.
Current as of:
October 27, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineArden Christen DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry
Current as of: October 27, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Arden Christen DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry
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