9 Things Your Child's Dentist Wants You to Know

Updated: Feb 2


I wrote this post a few years ago, and I am happy to say we are still a cavity-free household AND my daughter (now 5 years old) lets me brush her teeth every night. Wahoo!

A few tips that got me through the challenging periods....

  1. Personalize It - Inspect for foods she has eaten that day. "Are there any blueberries left in there? Peas? Chicken? Oh, found some!! Let me get those peas out." Heck, I still sometimes use this trick sometimes.

  2. Time It - For those really rough nights when she didn't want to open her mouth, I'd promise to only clean for 10 seconds. It was a really long 10 seconds. I counted really slow. But I got in there.

  3. No Teeth, No Books - I read books to my kids every night before bed. On nights my daughter would refuse to brush her teeth, and my normal tricks just weren't working, I would back off. No power struggles for me. In a calm and pleasant voice, I would say "ok no worries baby, you don't have to brush your teeth tonight. But if you are too tired to brush your teeth tonight, then you are too tired for books. You let me know." As she got older, I could also provide some other explanation about how brushing our teeth is a responsibility, and we need to use our energy for our responsibilities before we can use it for reading before bed. I was willing on those nights to let her go without brushing her teeth, but my kids love getting read to so much they also chose to brush.

See our story below and the tips I got from friend, dentist, and dad, Brian Zopp DDS.

I have a major confession to make. I let my 2 year old brush her own teeth. Am I embarrassed by this? Sure. Do I know what to do about it? Nope.

I never intended for this to happen. At the ripe age of 9 months, she was willing to allow me to brush her little teeth until my heart was content. It was total tooth-brushing bliss.

And then around, 18 months, she grew an opinion. A strong close-your-mouth-as-tight-as-you-can-to-keep-the-tooth-brush-out opinion. A bite-down-on-the-toothbrush-and-don't-let-go opinion. An only-if-I-can-do-it-myself opinion.

On most nights, she allows me to get about 20 seconds of high quality mommy brushing. Thankfully, she is very willing to get in there herself and move the toothbrush around for a few minutes.

I know this isn't enough. I just don't have the fight in me to battle her close-lipped, teeth-gritting force.

Along came my kids' dentist appointments, which I was totally dreading because I was afraid that I'd have to admit that I brush for just a measly 20 seconds while she handles the rest.

But I did it. I pushed my pride aside and took the kids for their appointments. I held my breath as the dentist carefully inspected my daughter's teeth, and when he announced that they look fabulous, I almost leaped with joy!

I totally dodged a bullet. I know I need to get my tooth-brushing-mom-duties in check before our next appointment and before our luck runs out, so I called on a friend, Dr. Bryan Zopp, DDS. He is a dentist. But equally as important, he has 2 toddlers. Surly he understands my battles. I asked him to lay it all out on the line. To give me the hard truth. Even better, to give me some tips.

Here's what he had to say.

1. The Basics

Parents should begin to brush their children’s teeth as soon as the first baby tooth appears. Ideally, brushing for 1-2 minutes should be done twice daily, the most important one being before bed. You may begin flossing daily once two teeth are touching.

2. Toothpaste: Which to Choose?

The biggest difference between “training”, “toddler”, and “adult” toothpastes are their flavors and fluoride concentrations.

As moms and dads already know, kids don’t like the same flavors as adults; therefore, you’ll find more kid friendly flavors in children’s toothpaste. My oldest, Noah (four years old), summarizes this point nicely “I don’t like that spicy toothpaste daddy.”

I am not a fan of “training” toothpastes that do not contain fluoride. Parents should begin using a fluoride toothpaste from the eruption of the first baby tooth and control the amount of fluoride exposure by limiting the amount of toothpaste used on the toothbrush.

For small children who cannot spit out the excess toothpaste, only a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste is needed (about the size of a grain of rice). Once children can spit out the excess toothpaste after brushing (usually ages 3-6), a pea sized amount of fluoride containing toothpaste should be used. Children older than six years and can spit out excess toothpaste can transition to “adult” toothpaste whenever mom and dad see fit.

3. Tricks: Getting Toddlers To Brush Well

I’ll have to pull from personal dad experience for this one. The best things that have worked for us are: making it fun, be consistent, and let the kids help.

  • Rock Out: Put some kid-favorite songs on your phone, ideally songs that are 1-2 minutes long, and jam out while brushing. This will do two things: distract the kids and act as a timer for how long you should be brushing.

  • Consistency: No matter what, when, why, how, or where, get that toothbrush in their mouth twice a day. They might resist at first, but they will soon realize that resistance is futile! Brush until you say they are done and don’t let the child change the game plan.

  • Let the kids help too: After an adult is done brushing, give the child the toothbrush and let them go to town. We often make the deal, “let me brush first and then you can brush all by yourself!”

  • Choices: Take the kids to the store and let them pick out a toothbrush and toothpaste of their choice. Just make sure the toothbrush is size and age appropriate and the toothpaste is a name brand that contains fluoride.


Introducing a Sonicare for Kids Toothbrush to my 4 year old has been a game changer. Prior to using the Sonicare, we found it challenging to get a full 1-2 minutes of quality brushing in with a regular brush. The Sonicare beeps when it is time to switch quadrants of the mouth and stays on for a full 2 minutes. My son loves pushing the button himself and brushes for a full 2 minutes every single time! In my opinion, this is TOTALLY worth the investment.

4. Do Kids Really Get Cavities? Does It Matter Since They Will Lose Their Baby Teeth Anyway?

Unfortunately, 42% of children aged 2 to 11 have had dental cavities in their baby teeth.

Dental disease can cause many problems for children including:

  • pain

  • missed school days

  • speech development issues

  • restricted airway and facial development

  • self-esteem and psychological problems

  • in rare circumstances, dental infections can be life threatening

5. Besides Brushing Teeth, How Do I Prevent Cavities?

The most common condition that I see in small children is early childhood cavities (or “bottle rot”) from night time use of bottles and cups that contain milk, juice, or anything other than water. The simple sugars and acid contained in these drinks will cause tremendous damage to the teeth. If you’re going to give a bottle or cup to your child at bedtime it needs to be water.

6. Thumb Sucking/Pacifier Use: Do They Cause Problems?

Thumb sucking and pacifier habits can change the way the mouth and face grows and develops including opening the front of the bite (anterior open bite... google it), "vaulting" of the roof of the mouth, and can lead to painful ear infections. Also, research has shown relationships between poor facial development and restricted airways (such as obstructive sleep apnea) for adults later in life.

If the thumb or pacifier comes out after falling asleep, the child will probably be okay. If the thumb or pacifier stays in the mouth all night while sleeping, it can cause a much larger issue.

7. Are dental x-rays dangerous?

Many parents have concerns about dental x-rays.

Modern dental offices have new, digital x-rays that are completely safe for all individuals. The amount of radiation exposure during these x-rays is equivalent of being outside in direct sun light for minutes.

Refusal of x-rays can lead to missed and under diagnosis of potential serious problems.

8. Is fluoride bad?

Just like any medication, there are safe and unsafe levels of fluoride.

Fluoride found in toothpastes, drinking water, and supplements is very safe and is one of the greatest single medical breakthroughs of modern medicine. It is one of the only substances that we know of that strengthens and re-mineralizes tooth structure.

9. Do I Really Need To Take My Kids To The Dentist Every 6 Months?

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Ben Franklin should have been a dentist!

Many of the oral problems found in toddlers are preventable. I tell parents all the time that I’m treating two conditions: one is oral disease (that’s easy) and the other is psychological. Mess up treating either of those two conditions and a child can be scared for life!

Nobody is having a good day when a seven-year-old comes into the office for the first time ever with an emergency tooth infection.

I want mom, dad, and child to have a great time every time they’re at our office. The best way to ensure this is to start the child coming into the office consistently at young age and preventing any serious dental treatment from ever needing to be done. Most toddler visits at the dental office are fast, fun, inexpensive, and earn trust between the dental office and your family.

Bryan Zopp, DDS

Dr. Zopp graduated with honors from James Madison University and received his Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry at the Medical College of Virginia. He currently owns and operates Zopp Family Dental Center in Elkton, Virginia.

Dr. Zopp and his wife Kate have two handsome and energetic boys, Noah (4) and Luke (2) aka Chaos and Mayhem and their dog Rocky. They live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and enjoy spending time outdoors. Dr. Zopp enjoys officiating high school football, spending time with his family, and doing whatever his wife says.

Katie Ramirez, RN, BSN, CLC

Born Happy, Owner and Coach

Katie Ramirez is a Registered Nurse and Certified Lactation Counselor. She has spent more than a decade serving patients at major university hospitals such as Vanderbilt University and Penn State University Medical Centers. Katie now spends her time supporting and empowering parents of babies and toddlers as owner and Coach for Born Happy.

Katie is the proud mother of two beautiful children, Roberto (age 7), and Veronica (age 5). She has a passion for health, wellness, and happy children, and believes that, with the necessary knowledge and support, all parents can live happy.

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