Dentist teaching a little girl how to brush her teeth

11 Things Dentists Want Parents Of Toddlers To Know

Visiting the dentist as a toddler can be a terrifying, tantrum-ensuing experience. Even as an adult, I still struggle with maintaining regular dental appointments because of the discomfort of dental work. But taking your toddler to the dentist is an absolutely vital part of ensuring that your child keeps healthy pearly whites throughout childhood. These 11 things dentists want parents of toddlers to know can help alleviate some of the anxiety surrounding taking a toddler to the dentist, and help create healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Although you may have already started a few healthy oral hygiene habits with your toddler, there are a variety of tips and tricks that dentists have gleaned over their years of experience with kids to help parents better support their toddler's dental health. Understanding the importance of what is going on in terms of your toddler's dental development is just like understanding their nutritional or physical development. From how to keep a toddler entertained during an office visit and when to take them in for the first time, to how important it is to floss a toddler's teeth regularly and why to avoid sugary snacks, these dentists give Romper an inside look at everything you should know about toddlers and dental health.


See The Dentist Twice Per Year

While the initial visit for your toddler may vary based on when their teeth come in, once you make your first appointment, it is recommended that you follow up at least twice per year.

Dr. Erin Issac, DMD at Winning Smiles Pediatric Dental Care and assistant clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine tells Romper, "All children should visit a dentist within 6 months of their first teeth coming in or by age 1. At this visit, not only are we assessing growth and development, but also monitoring for any problems, discussing proper home oral hygiene and nutrition advice, answering questions that parents have, and most importantly getting kids used to coming to the dentist every six months."


How Much Toothpaste To Use

I am completely guilty of using way too much toothpaste when my kids were toddlers. Honestly, it helped them want to brush because it tasted good.

Dr. Issac clears up exactly how much toothpaste a toddler needs, based on their age. "In an ideal world, we'd brush our toddler's teeth twice a day for two minutes each with either a rice sized smear (for 1 to 3-year-olds) or pea size amount (for ages 3 and up) of fluoride-containing toothpaste, and begin flossing wherever teeth touch," she tells Romper


It's OK If They Are Not Great With Flossing

No, not the viral Fortnite dance — although they probably can do that, too. According to Dr. Issac, parents shouldn't stress if their toddler's flossing habits aren't picture perfect. While Dr. Issac recommends brushing a toddler's teeth twice per day for two minutes and flossing whenever teeth begin to touch, she also understands that toddlers are, well, toddlers. "Obviously, life with a toddler isn't always perfect, so brushing twice a day for as long as possible and flossing with little flossers whenever possible (especially if teeth touch) is more reasonable," she says.


They Really Do Need Help

The boy who came to the dental clinicShutterstock

Toddlers should always be supervised when it comes to their oral care routine, but your kids might need help with brushing and flossing for longer than you think. Dr. Issac tells Romper that "parental assistance with home dental hygiene should occur until 6 or 7 years old."


Nutrition Is Important

Understanding that what goes into your child's diet from an early age will have an impact on their dental health is important. Dr. Jeremy N. Krell, DMD, MBA, Dental Director at oral health company quip, tells Romper, "Nutrition is highly impactful. Limiting sugary beverages and emphasizing water is of the utmost importance. Children should eat a balanced diet, ideally void of refined sugars, processed foods, and acid to the greatest extent possible." He goes on to explain that there are benefits to toddlers receiving breast milk to help support their dental development offering that "breastfeeding is a plus."


Lay Off The Fruit Juice

In addition to eating a balanced diet, Dr. Issac explains why limiting fruit juice can help protect your toddler's teeth. "Bacteria in our mouths use sugar as fuel to produce acidic coatings called plaque which, over time, can break down the enamel of the teeth and cause cavities, so the less sugar consumed, the less risk of cavities," Dr. Issac tells Romper. "On the flip side, some foods, like whole fruits and vegetables, can decrease the viability or 'badness' of certain salivary bacteria. But fruits contain their own natural sugars, so avoid fruit juices (which are very concentrated) for kids under 1 completely, and toddlers should only consume 6 to 8 ounces, if any, on a daily basis."


Cavities Can Happen

"Toddlers can and do get cavities. Over 50 percent of kids will have a cavity by age 6, oftentimes without parents even noticing, so early dental visits can catch problems early and we can educate/empower you with cavity prevention tools," Dr. Issac tells Romper. So even if you feel like there isn't an issue, it is always best to have your toddler checked out.


Be A Good Role Model

Good dental habits for toddlers begin with what they observe their parents saying and doing with regard to dental hygiene. "The best thing parents can do is show their children how easy and fun it can be to take care of your mouth. They should brush in front of and with their child, making it a normal part of activities. They can read them books and talk to them about what to expect," Dr. Krell tells Romper.


Preparation Is Key

Cute girl brushing teeth dentistryShutterstock

When it comes time to visit the dentist, Dr. Issac tells Romper that "preparation and positivity are the keys to success." She explains that watching Peppa Pig or Daniel Tiger visit the dentist, or using silly names for the instruments the dentist will use (For example, floss can be called tickle string. So fun!) can go a long way in helping prepare toddlers.

Visiting the office ahead of your regular check-up to help a toddler acclimate is also one way to stave off anxiety. "We encourage parents to bring kids by our office for pre-visits," Dr. Issac says. "They can drop by, play in the waiting room, check out the place (including the dental chair and some instruments), even if it's not the day that we will actually be seeing them for their cleaning and check-up."


They May Cry

"Toddlers cry when they are doing anything they don't want to do (getting diapers changed, sharing toys, etc.) so don't be surprised if they cry a bit at their first few appointments. They aren't in pain, it can just take a while to get used to new people and places," Dr. Issac tells Romper. "Plus our mouth are very sensitive, personal spaces, so it's just something different that they will get used to over time. I highly recommend taking toddlers to pediatric dentists who are much more equipped and trained to handle little patients."


Communicate With Your Toddler's Dentist

Although your toddler may protest dental visits, Dr. Krell tells Romper that dental providers are more than willing to help parents through any trouble spots. "Dental issues are mostly preventable, so a bit of focus early on goes a long way," he says. "While in the office, parents can discuss with the provider when it is most appropriate to be in the chair and how to best respond to their child’s requests — they are often quite receptive and willing to coach everyone to a positive outcome."