Healthy teeth for children

Healthy teeth are an important part of your child’s overall health. Helping your child develop good oral health begins at birth.

When will my baby’s teeth appear?

The first primary tooth usually comes at about 6 months, but it isn’t unusual for teeth to appear as early as 3 months or late as 12 months.

Every child is different, but most will have all 20 primary teeth by 3 years. At around 5 or 6 years, your child will start to lose their primary teeth to make room for their permanent teeth.

Why are primary teeth important?

Primary teeth give shape to your child’s face, help guide permanent teeth into the right position and are crucial for learning to eat and to speak. It’s important to care for them well.

Primary teeth have a thinner outer enamel (a thin, hard, white substance that covers the tooth) than permanent teeth. This puts them at risk for early childhood tooth decay, which can begin even before the first tooth appears. Decay is caused by bacteria and happens more easily if teeth keep coming into contact with sweet liquids—such as formula, milk, juice, and even breast milk (which contains sugar)—and are not cleaned regularly.

Early childhood tooth decay can affect your child’s health and cause pain, making it hard for your child to sleep, eat or speak. It can also affect your child’s ability to concentrate and learn. Children who develop dental decay at an early age are more likely to suffer from it throughout childhood.

How can I help my teething baby?

When your child is getting their teeth, their gums may be swollen and tender.


  • Rub the gums with a clean finger.
  • Offer them something to chew on. A wet facecloth placed in the freezer for 30 minutes can be helpful, or a teething ring made of firm rubber.

Do not:

  • Use anesthetic/numbing gels that can be rubbed on your child’s gums. Your child may swallow it.
  • Give them teething biscuits, which may contain sugar.
  • Ignore a fever. If your baby is younger than 6 months call a doctor. Older children with a mild fever can be treated at home, as long as they get enough liquids and seem well otherwise.

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a natural mineral that is found in soil, water and various foods. Many communities in Canada add fluoride to the local water supply to help prevent tooth decay. It can also be found in many types of toothpaste, mouthwash, and varnishes (polish applied to the teeth by a dentist).

Children who start using products with fluoride from an early age have fewer cavities than those who don’t.

How does fluoride work?

Fluoride helps prevent cavities and decay by coming in direct contact with the tooth enamel (the outside of the tooth) and promoting mineralization.

If you consume fluoride from sources such as drinking water, it gets absorbed in your bloodstream. Then it becomes part of the enamel on the inside of the tooth.
If too much fluoride gets into the inside of the tooth, it can cause a condition called fluorosis.

What is fluorosis?

Too much fluoride in the early years can damage teeth as they are forming, and can lead to a condition called fluorosis. Fluorosis causes white spots or blotches on teeth.  But white spots on teeth can also be a sign of early cavities. Your dentist will have to look at your child’s teeth to know for sure.

In more severe cases of fluorosis, these spots can stain or become dark. The teeth can become brittle, chipped or “pitted”.

The majority of fluorosis cases are mild.

How much fluoride does my child need?

The right amount will prevent cavities, but not cause fluorosis.

  • A way to prevent cavities is to add fluoride to drinking water.
  • The right amount is about 0.7 parts per million (ppm) in drinking water, which is enough to prevent cavities but not too much so as to cause obvious fluorosis. You can check with your local municipality to find out how much fluoride is in your drinking water supply.
  • Natural sources of water may also have fluoride. If your water comes from wells or springs, you can have it tested. If it contains 0.7 ppm of fluoride or less, it is safe.
  • If the level of fluoride in your water supply is 0.3 ppm or less, ask your dentist or doctor whether a supplement is needed.
  • If the amount of fluoride in the water is more than 0.7 ppm, there is more of a chance that a child will develop fluorosis. Children younger than three years of age should not drink water with fluoride levels of much more than 0.7 ppm.

What about fluoride from toothpaste?

Start brushing your children’s teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste by the time they are 3 years old. If your child is under 3 years of age and you think they may be at risk for early childhood tooth decay, talk to your dentist to find out if it is a good idea to start using a small amount (the size of a grain of rice) of fluoridated toothpaste.

What about supplements?

Fluoride is available as drops or lozenges, but most children don’t need extra fluoride.

If there is a reason to give your child fluoride supplements, your dentist or doctor will recommend them. If you use drops, dilute them with water and follow instructions on the package. Tell your child not to swallow the drops.

It’s also important to visit the dentist twice a year. Besides checking for signs of cavities or gum disease, the dentist will help keep your teeth extra clean and can help you learn the best way to brush and floss.

It’s not just brushing and flossing that keep your teeth healthy — you also need to be careful about what you eat and drink. Remember, the plaque on your teeth is just waiting for that sugar to arrive. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and drink water instead of soda. And don’t forget to smile!

We love our patients and love to help them form healthy dental life that will last them a lifetime. For more information call us today to answer all of your questions so get an appointment today.