Frequently Asked Questions


What is the difference between a pediatric dentist and a family dentist?

Pediatric dentists are the pediatricians of dentistry. A pediatric dentist has two to three years of specialty training following dental school and limits his/her practice to treating children only. Pediatric dentists are dedicated to the comprehensive oral health of children from infancy through the teenage years, including those with special health needs.

Why are baby teeth so important?

It is very important to maintain the health of the primary (baby) teeth. Neglected cavities can and frequently do lead to problems which affect developing permanent teeth. Primary teeth, or baby teeth are important for (1) proper chewing and eating, (2) providing space for the permanent teeth and guiding them into the correct position, and (3) permitting normal development of the jaw bones and muscles. Primary teeth also affect the development of speech and add to an attractive appearance. While the front 4 teeth last until 6-7 years of age, the back teeth (canines and molars) aren’t replaced until age 10-13.

Are x-rays safe?

Radiographs (X-Rays) are a vital and necessary part of your child’s dental diagnostic process. Without them, certain dental conditions can and will be missed.

Radiographs detect much more than cavities. For example, radiographs may be needed to survey erupting teeth, diagnose bone diseases, evaluate the results of an injury, or plan orthodontic treatment. Radiographs allow us to diagnose and treat health conditions that cannot be detected during a clinical examination. If dental problems are found and treated early, dental care is more comfortable for your child and more affordable for you.

The Canadian Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends radiographs and examinations every six months for children with a high risk of tooth decay. On average, most pediatric dentists request radiographs approximately once a year for moderate risk children, and once every 2 years for low risk children.

Pediatric dentists are particularly careful to minimize the exposure of their patients to radiation. With contemporary safeguards, the amount of radiation received in a dental X-ray examination is extremely small. The risk is negligible. In fact, the dental radiographs represent a far smaller risk than an undetected and untreated dental problem. Lead body aprons and shields will protect your child. Today’s equipment filters out unnecessary x-rays and restricts the x-ray beam to the area of interest. High-speed film and proper shielding assure that your child receives a minimal amount of radiation exposure. Many dental offices are utilizing digital x-rays that further reduce radiation by 50%.

How should I help take care of my child’s teeth?

Start oral health care early. Wipe your infant’s gums with a soft wet washcloth. This will allow them to be familiar with regular oral care. The first teeth appear about six months after birth. You may continue to use a washcloth when there are only front teeth erupted. However when the molars erupt, daily brushing should begin. If your child has grown up without getting used to regular oral care, you could have a difficult time. If there is a battle, the battle must be won by you. The plaque cannot be allowed to remain on your child’s teeth.

Unless otherwise recommended by your child’s dentist, brushing with water or a non-fluoridated toothpaste is sufficient until your child learns how to rinse and spit. A pea size amount of fluoride toothpaste can be used after the child is old enough not to swallow it.

Parents must be responsible for making sure their children’s teeth are clean until the child is about eight years old. Younger children do not have the manual dexterity required to do a proper job of brushing. However, each child is different. Your dentist can help you determine whether the child has the skill level to brush properly.

How Do I Prevent Cavities?

Good oral hygiene removes bacteria and the left over food particles that combine to create cavities. For infants, use a wet gauze or clean washcloth to wipe the plaque from teeth and gums. Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle filled with anything other than water. See “Baby Bottle Tooth Decay” for more information.

For older children, brush their teeth at least twice a day. Saliva is a buffer that helps prevent cavities. It is especially important to go to bed with clean teeth since salivary flow is reduced while sleeping. Also, watch the number of snacks containing sugar that you give your children.

How do dental sealants work?

Permanent molars and premolars have deep grooves on the chewing surface that plaque and bacteria like to live in. A sealant is a clear or shaded plastic material that is applied to the grooves of the back teeth, where four out of five cavities in children are found. This sealant acts as a barrier to food, plaque and acid, thus protecting the decay-prone areas of the teeth (similar to weather-sealing your deck). The application is fast and comfortable and can effectively protect teeth for many years. Baby teeth tend to be more prone to cavities between the teeth rather than the chewing surfaces. Based on your child’s caries risk assessment, your child’s dentist may also recommend sealants on the primary teeth.

What is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

One serious form of decay among young children is baby bottle tooth decay also known as early childhood caries (ECC). This condition is caused by frequent and long exposures of an infant’s teeth to liquids that contain sugar. Among these liquids are milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juice and other sweetened drinks.

Putting a baby to bed for a nap or at night with a bottle other than water can cause serious and rapid tooth decay.

Sweet liquid pools around the child’s teeth giving plaque bacteria an opportunity to produce acids that attack tooth enamel. If you must give the baby a bottle as a comforter at bedtime, it should contain only water. If your child won’t fall asleep without the bottle and its usual beverage, gradually dilute the bottle’s contents with water over a period of two to three weeks.

When Will My Baby Start Getting Teeth?

Teething, the process of baby (primary) teeth coming through the gums into the mouth, is variable among individual babies. Some babies get their teeth early and some get them late. In general the first baby teeth are usually the lower front (anterior) teeth and usually begin erupting between the age of 6-8 months. See “Eruption of Your Child’s Teeth” for more details.

What should I do if my child is in pain?

Teething: Everyone is familiar with teething when the baby teeth erupt. Children will also get teething pain when the permanent first molars erupt (around 6 years of age) and when the 2nd permanent molars erupt (around 12 years of age). Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (Advil, Motrin) help keep teething discomfort to a minimum.

Toothache: Clean the area of the affected tooth thoroughly. Rinse the mouth vigorously with warm water or use dental floss to dislodge impacted food or debris. If the pain still exists, contact your child’s dentist. DO NOT place aspirin on the gum or on the aching tooth. To keep your child comfortable, children’s Advil, Motrin, or Tylenol may be sufficient until your child is able to see the dentist. If the face is swollen apply cold compresses and contact your dentist immediately.

What should I do if my child falls and knocks out a tooth?

Knocked Out Primary Tooth: Do not attempt to replant. Keep it light hearted and show your child enthusiasm that the tooth fairy will be coming early! Your child should still be seen by their dentist to assess any effects to neighbouring teeth.

Knocked Out Permanent Tooth: Find the tooth. Handle the tooth by the crown, not the root portion. You may rinse the tooth but DO NOT clean or handle the tooth unnecessarily. Inspect the tooth for fractures. If it is sound, try to reinsert it in the socket. Have your child hold the tooth in place by biting on a gauze. If you cannot reinsert the tooth, transport the tooth in a cup containing your child’s saliva or chilled (low fat) milk. If your child is old enough, the tooth may also be carried in his/her mouth. Your child must see a dentist IMMEDIATELY! Time is a critical factor in saving the tooth.

What is pulp therapy?

The pulp of a tooth is the inner central core of the tooth. The pulp contains nerves, blood vessels, connective tissue and reparative cells. The purpose of pulp therapy in pediatric Dentistry is to maintain the vitality of the affected tooth (so the tooth is not lost).

Dental caries (cavities) and traumatic injury are the main reasons for a tooth to require pulp therapy. Pulp therapy is often referred to as a “nerve treatment”, “children’s root canal”, “pulpectomy” or “pulpotomy”. The two common forms of pulp therapy in children’s teeth are the pulpotomy (removal of diseased pulp tissue within the crown of the tooth) and pulpectomy (entire pulp is removed into the root canals). Teeth require pulp therapy are quite weak and the filling of choice is a stainless steel crown to ensure success of treatment.

What is a Dental Home?

The Canadian Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (CAPD) supports the concept of a “dental home” for all infants, children, adolescents and persons with special health needs. This concept is based on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and their definition of a “medical home”. Children who have a dental home are more likely to receive appropriate preventive and routine oral health care. The establishment of a dental home allows for a cost-effective and higher quality health care alternative to emergency care situations.

When Should My Child First See a Dentist?

According to the Canadian Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (CAPD) your child should visit the dentist by his/her 1st birthday. You can make the first visit to the dentist enjoyable and positive. Your child should be informed of the visit and told that the dentist and their staff will explain all procedures and answer any questions.

It is best if you refrain from using words around your child that might cause unnecessary fear, such as needle, pull, drill or hurt. Pediatric dental offices make a practice of using words that convey the same message, but are pleasant and non-frightening to the child.

What is a Dental Home?

The Canadian Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (CAPD) supports the concept of a “dental home” for all infants, children, adolescents and persons with special health needs. This concept is based on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and their definition of a “medical home”. Children who have a dental home are more likely to receive appropriate preventive and routine oral health care. The establishment of a dental home allows for a cost-effective and higher quality health care alternative to emergency care situations.