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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Before the Tooth Fairy: Early Dental Care

It’s a familiar scene in bathrooms, twice a day.

Parent: (liltingly, with a smile) “Time to brush teeth!”

Child: (with feeling) “NO!”

So your preschooler doesn’t always brush every day. And when they do get them brushed, it’s sort of haphazard at best. They’re more interested in the “sparkle-flavored” toothpaste than the sparkly teeth. No big deal, right? They’re just baby teeth, anyway.


“Some people think baby teeth are going to fall out, so they aren’t important to take good care of, but that’s not true,” says Dr. Darin Schettler, a family practice dentist in Santa Rosa. “Mouth health is important for lots of reasons, including eating, speech and even self-esteem. Kids with unhealthy teeth don’t smile, and that can impair them socially.”

The overall health of the mouth is also important for the developing adult teeth, long before they begin to make their appearance.

“It’s not technique so much as frequency of brushing that helps prevent ECC, or Early Childhood Caries,” says Sebastopol pediatric dentist Dr. Rob Oliver. (We might know ECCs best as “cavities,” which still sends a chill down many people’s spines.)

Dr. Oliver says there is no set age to give with regards to when a child is capable of brushing his or her own teeth effectively, but that parents should supervise and assist as needed.

“Some of my seven-year-old patients can do a fine job, and other ten year olds still need help brushing and flossing effectively.”

When teaching your child to brush, Dr. Oliver recommends using a soft toothbrush, and soft, circular motions to brush, with the bristles gently angled towards the gums. “It’s more about the frequency of getting the material off the teeth than anything.”

The American Dental Association recommends that parents use only a pea-size amount of toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush, as larger amounts tend to create excessive foam making it more difficult for your child to brush. Make sure that your child gets in the habit of spitting out the toothpaste, too, since swallowing toothpaste on a consistent basis can cause your child to ingest too much fluoride.

And don’t forget to practice what you preach. Teach your child good dental health by modeling good brushing habits yourself.

Both dentists recommend an early dental visit to promote a positive experience at the dentist. Dr. Oliver suggests by their first birthday, and Dr. Schettler often sees children by their second birthday.

“We want their experience to be positive, so if we only clean one tooth the first time, that’s okay. We’ll go back another day and get a few more. And then a few more. The important thing is to get them in here,” says Dr. Schettler.

A 2010 law is in effect requiring that a child be seen by a dental professional by May 31st of the first year they are in public school. A form is required to prove the compliance with the new law, but parents can opt out of the requirement by contacting their school.

This landmark law, Assembly Bill 1433, was put forward by the California Dental Association in the hopes that it would act as a screening for early childhood dental health. (For more information on the new law, visit .)

Start good dental health with your children early and often, taking them to the dentist and teaching them to brush. And if it helps, know that in their own homes with their own children, even dental professionals have to sometimes resort to playing games and singing silly songs to get the job done… twice a day.