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Basic Dental Care From Birth to 16 Years


All children need early and regular dental care. During well-child visits the doctor will check your child's dental health. A visit to a dentist is recommended within 6 months of when your child's first tooth comes in but no later than your child's first birthday.footnote 1

Some parents may worry about their child's first visit to the dentist's office. You can make a trip to the dentist more positive for your child if you choose their dentist carefully. Talk to your child about what to expect. If you want, use books that are meant to help a young child prepare for the first dental exam. If you have concerns about how your child will behave, talk to your dentist before scheduling the visit. Your dentist may allow your child to come in once or twice before being examined. These types of visits help prepare your child and often make them more comfortable with the dentist, other staff, and the office environment.

Regular dental visits are important to teach your child good dental care and to help prevent cavities and other problems. The exam also helps to identify and treat problems early and prevent them from becoming more serious.

Dental care tips for different age groups

Birth to 3 years

  • Make sure that your family practices good dental habits. Keeping your own teeth and gums healthy lowers the risk of passing bacteria from your mouth to your child. Also, avoid sharing spoons and other utensils with your child.
  • Don't put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice, milk, formula, or other sugary liquid. This raises the chance of tooth decay.
  • Use a soft cloth to clean your baby's gums. Start a few days after birth, and do this until the first teeth come in. As soon as the teeth come in, clean them with a soft toothbrush. Ask your dentist if it's okay to use a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Experts recommend that children have a dental exam when the first tooth appears or by their first birthday.

Ages 3 to 6 years

  • Your child can learn how to brush their teeth at about 3 years of age. But you should help and check for proper cleaning.
  • Give your child a small, soft toothbrush. Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Encourage your child to watch you and older siblings brush teeth. Teach your child not to swallow the toothpaste.
  • Talk with your dentist about when and how to floss your child's teeth and to teach your child to floss.
  • Help children age 4 years and older to stop sucking their fingers, thumbs, or pacifiers. If your child can't stop, see your dentist. A children's dentist is specially trained to treat this problem.

Ages 6 to 16 years

  • You should supervise your child until they spit toothpaste out instead of swallowing it and until they can tie their own shoes or write their own name. This may not be until age 8 or older.
  • A child's teeth should be flossed as soon as the teeth touch each other. Flossing can be hard for a child to learn. Talk with your dentist about the right way to teach your child how to floss.
  • Your dentist may advise the use of a mouthwash that contains fluoride. But teach your child not to swallow it.
  • Use disclosing tablets from time to time. They can help you see if any plaque is left on your child's teeth after brushing. These tablets are chewable and will color any plaque left on the teeth after the child brushes. You can buy these at most drugstores.
  • After your child's permanent teeth begin to appear, talk with your dentist about having dental sealant placed on the molars.

Related Information



  1. American Academy of Pediatrics (2023). Maintaining and improving the oral health of young children. Pediatrics, 151(1): e2022060417. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2022-060417. Accessed March 20, 2023.


Current as of: August 6, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.


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