Top 10 Facts about Children’s Oral Health — FAQ Edition

Our original “Top 10 Facts You Should Know about Children’s Oral Health” provided a short, sweet—or should we say sugar-free?—intro to kids and oral health. But like the inquisitive little mouths they describe, these facts are begging to ask some questions…

Below is our MDA dentist-approved list of “Top Ten Facts You Should Know about Children’s Oral Health,” complete with answers to frequently asked questions related to each need-to-know topic.

1. Most children lose their first tooth around age 6.

Q: At what ages do children start and stop losing their baby teeth?
A: You can expect a child’s baby teeth, or primary teeth, to begin to fall out around age 6. Some primary teeth remain present until age 12. Baby teeth are important in the development of a child’s mouth and to the spacing of their adult teeth.

2. Children should stop using pacifiers and thumbsucking by age 3 to 4.

Q: Are pacifiers and thumbsucking safe for kids?
A: Thumbsucking and the use of pacifiers are perfectly normal … up to a certain age. These habits aren’t a cause for concern in infants and young toddlers.

Q: At what age should my child stop thumbsucking or using a pacifier?
A: It’s best for kids to stop using pacifiers and thumbsucking by the time they’re 3 years old, or 4 at the very latest. Prolonged thumbsucking or pacifier use can affect a child’s teeth, jaw, and bite alignment.

Q: How can I help my child stop thumbsucking or using a pacifier?
A: If these activities persist after age 3-4, consult your dentist. They can provide advice on how to get your child to help stop the habit.

3. Tooth brushing should start once a child’s first tooth appears.

Q: How do I care for my baby’s gums?
A: MDA dentists recommend cleaning a baby’s gums with a clean damp cloth after every feeding.

Q: When should I start brushing my child’s teeth?
A: Parents should start brushing their child’s teeth with a rice-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste once their first tooth appears. After age 3, brushing with a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste is recommended.

Q: At what age can a kid brush their teeth by themselves?
A: Parents should supervise brushing until age 6 or older. Kids shouldn’t brush unsupervised until they’re coordinated enough to brush thoroughly and can be trusted not to swallow or eat toothpaste.

Until your child can reliably tie their shoes correctly, they should have a grown up supervise them and do a “check brush” of their teeth.

Q: How often should kids brush their teeth?
A: Kids should brush twice a day, just like adults. Dentists recommend using a kid-friendly flavored fluoride toothpaste with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Also, don’t forget about flossing. If you need help teaching your child to floss, your MDA dentist and their staff can help. Just ask at your child’s next appointment.

4. Childhood tooth decay (or cavities) is the most common illness in children.

Q: Are cavities common in kids?
Unfortunately, yes. Tooth decay, or the presence of childhood cavities, is by far the most common childhood disease. It’s five times more common in children than asthma! The good news is that it’s also one of the most preventable diseases.

Q: Is it really necessary to fill cavities in baby teeth?
A: Yes! We understand; they’ll lose those teeth anyway. But, untreated cavities in primary teeth (aka baby teeth) can lead to further dental disease and negatively impact a child’s overall health.

5. Childhood tooth decay (or cavities) can be prevented.

Q: Besides brushing, what can I do to prevent my child from getting cavities?

  • Provide only clean pacifiers. Don’t ever dip pacifiers in sugar.
  • Don’t lick a child’s spoon or pacifier to clean it. Don’t share eating utensils with your child. The bacteria that lives in adult saliva can cause cavities in children.
  • Don’t put juice or soda in a child’s bottle.
  • Never put a child to bed with a bottle containing anything other than water—that means no bedtime milk bottles either.
  • Limit children’s intake of sugary foods, juices, sports drinks, and sodas.
  • Make sure your child’s teeth are brushed twice a day with an ADA accepted toothpaste.

6. Sealants help protect children’s permanent molars from cavities.

Q: What are sealants and how do they help?
A: Sealants act as barriers to cavity-prone areas. With a fast and easy application, sealants cover the deep pits and grooves along the biting surface of a child’s molars (aka their back teeth). This helps protect these vulnerable, groovy tooth surfaces from developing cavities.

Q: Does my child really need sealants?
A: MDA dentists highly recommend sealants, especially in children with deep grooves in their teeth and those prone to cavities. Usually dentists start applying sealants to children by the time kids reach 6.

7. Community water fluoridation is a safe and effective way for children to get this tooth-protecting mineral.

Q: Why does my town’s water contain fluoride?
A: Community water is fluoridated for the health and development of children’s teeth. Fluoride strengthens growing teeth and helps prevent childhood cavities. This safe and successful public health measure has greatly reduced tooth decay in kids since it was first used in Grand Rapids, MI in 1945.

Q: Is it safe for children to drink fluoridated water?
A: Yes! Community water fluoridation is done at levels that safely aid children in their dental development. Children who don’t drink fluoridated water are at higher risk of developing tooth decay. If your child doesn’t drink fluoridated water, talk to your MDA dentist about fluoride treatments.

8. Mouthguards aren’t just for pro-athletes; they’re for pewee mouths too!

Q: Do kids need to wear mouthguards when they play sports?
A: Yes. Custom-fitted mouthguards are important for childhood sporting activities. Providing a mouthguard for your child will help protect their mouth, teeth, and facial bones from damage. Children with braces should always wear a mouthguard when playing sports.

Q: For which sports should children wear mouthguards?
A: MDA dentists recommend children wear mouthguards when playing any sport where there is a risk of facial injury. These include, but aren’t limited to: baseball, basketball, football, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, and wrestling.

9. When a child breaks or knocks out an adult tooth, it’s possible to save it!

Q: How do you save a child’s broken or knocked out tooth?
A: If a child’s permanent tooth is damaged or knocked out, you can save it for reattachment by keeping it moist. The best method is to carefully reinsert the tooth in the socket without touching the root.

If that is not possible, place the tooth in milk, or use a tooth preservation kit (available at most pharmacies). Then, take your child and their tooth to your MDA dentist, or to an emergency dentist, immediately.

10. Children should have their first dental check up by their first birthday.

Q: When should my child go to the dentist for the first time?
A: MDA dentists recommend that you bring your child in for their first check up within six months of the appearance of their first tooth, and no later than their first birthday.

Q: How often does my child need to go to the dentist?
A: Your dentist will generally want to see your child every six months.


Have more questions about something on (or not on) this list? Take your little one to an MDA dentist and ask away! Don’t have an MDA dentist? Find one near you at