Getting children on the path to good oral hygiene in their early years will determine how they view oral health throughout their lives.

A 2016 study by the British Dental Journal, published in Nature Research, concluded that the oral health habits of adults were the same as those developed in childhood. They also found that oral health in adults is associated with the beliefs, socio-economic status, dental visits, and self-care that was experienced in childhood.

Since it’s never too soon to start, let’s look at proper care of primary, or baby, teeth.

Primary Teeth

Primary teeth develop in a predictable order and at predictable ages. From the upper, central incisor that usually erupts from 8-12 months and is shed at around 6-7 years, to the upper, second molar that erupts at about 25-33 months and is shed at 10-12 years, many parents don’t take the 20 primary teeth too seriously. The feeling is often that, since they’re temporary and will only be around for a few years, they couldn’t be too important.

According to the American Dental Society’s Mouth Healthy website, here are a few important functions that primary teeth play:

  • They hold a place for permanent teeth. If a primary tooth is lost too early, the remaining teeth can drift and block permanent teeth, causing permanent teeth to be crooked or crowded.
  • Permanent teeth develop very close to the root of primary teeth. Untreated cavities in primary teeth can develop and infection or abscess that can cause damage to the permanent teeth underneath.
  • Primary teeth affect speech and facial development. In learning to speak, the tongue, lips and cheeks all interact with the teeth in forming essential sounds and words. The teeth also provide structure to facial muscles, which will determine the shape of a child’s face.
  • Proper health and nutrition depend on good teeth. Dental pain can lead to nutritional deficiencies if a child is unable to chew and eat food. Additionally, untreated cavities can become infected, and that infection can spread to other parts of the body.
  • Healthy primary teeth contribute to healthy self-esteem. Dental pain can have an effect on concentration and schoolwork. Plus, decayed teeth can negatively impact a child’s early social development.

Children may not have an abundance of teeth by their first birthday, but it’s the suggested time that they are introduced to the dentist for their first checkup. Besides checking for cavities, which are very common in front incisors, the dentist can answer questions on how to properly clean a toddler’s teeth and can be instructive in handling problems such as thumb sucking.

Regular care of a child’s primary teeth isn’t very different than caring for your own teeth. Start brushing as soon as teeth appear. Use an appropriate size brush and a fluoride toothpaste, in an amount about the size of a grain of rice for children under 3, and the size of a pea for children over 3.

Primary teeth should be brushed twice a day. Once teeth become so plentiful that they are close together and touching, it’s time to introduce flossing to the brushing routine.

Once children are old enough to brush their own teeth—usually around age 6—parents should still supervise, offering advice and reminding children not to swallow toothpaste.

Permanent Teeth

Like primary teeth, permanent teeth appear on a fairly predictable schedule. As they push primary teeth out, permanent teeth make their first appearance around the age of 7 or 8 years and continue until the age of 17 to 21 years when the third molars, or wisdom teeth, finally arrive—although it’s not uncommon for wisdom teeth to never appear.

Once permanent teeth are in place, the oral hygiene routine is the same as it would be for an adult: brush and floss twice a day and perhaps get treatments such as sealants and fluoride gels to further strengthen teeth and protect against decay.

The most important thing to do as permanent teeth appear is to see a dentist at least twice a year. There can be a variety of problems that occur as permanent teeth erupt, especially if there have been previous issues with primary teeth.

Permanent teeth can come in crooked, they can overlap or appear with one tooth directly in front of another and can even grow laterally, all of which can result in bite issues. With any of these problems, early treatment can prevent future oral health troubles.

Initiate a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums by reviewing good oral health habits with children and by finding activities that will keep them involved such as crossword puzzles, coloring sheets, mazes, and brushing calendar.

Most importantly, give children the gift of good oral health throughout their lives, and start with regular visits to the office of Dr. Brei, so small issues can be addressed before they become big ones.

There are many ways to get in touch with the office of Dr. Brei. You can email him at, call him at 520-325-9000, or click here to book an appointment directly. To prepare children for a lifetime of good oral health, contact the office of Dr. Brei today!