Topic Overview

All of a child’s 20
primary (baby) teeth usually break through the gums (erupt) between the ages of
6 months and 3 years. Then the
permanent teeth begin to emerge, usually starting at
about age 6. Your child probably had his or her first trip to the dentist
between 6 and 12 months of age, and now you probably have regular appointments
set up. If for some reason your child has not yet seen a dentist, make an
appointment for an exam.

Your 3- to 6-year-old child will be
busily developing language skills and exploring the ever-widening world. Hard
as it is to get a preschooler to sit still, this is the age during which you
can teach good dental health habits.

  • Your child can learn how to brush his or her own
    teeth at about 3 years of age and should be brushing his or her own teeth,
    morning and night, by age 4. You should still supervise and check for proper
  • Give your child a small, soft toothbrush, and apply
    fluoridated toothpaste in an amount about the size of a small green pea.
    Encourage your child to watch you and older siblings
    brush teeth. A good teaching method is to have your
    child brush in the morning and you brush at night until your child masters the
    skill. Teach your child not to swallow the toothpaste.
  • Start
    flossing your child’s teeth as soon as they touch each other. You may find
    plastic flossing tools helpful. Talk with your dentist about the right timing
    and technique to floss your child’s teeth and to teach your child to
  • If your 4-year-old sucks his or her fingers or thumb, help
    him or her to stop. If the child can’t stop, see your dentist. A children’s
    dentist (pediatric dentist) is specially trained to treat this problem. For
    more information, see the topic
  • Give your child nutritious
    foods to maintain healthy gums, develop strong teeth, and avoid tooth decay.
    These include whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Try to avoid foods that are
    high in sugar and processed carbohydrates, such as pastries, pasta, and white
  • Discuss your child’s
    fluoride needs with your dentist. If your child needs extra fluoride, your dentist may recommend a supplement or a gel or varnish that he or she would apply to your child’s teeth. Use supplements only as directed. And keep them out of reach of your child. Too much fluoride can be toxic and can stain a child’s teeth.
  • Keep your child away from cigarette smoke
    (secondhand smoke). Tobacco smoke may contribute to the development of tooth
    decay and gum disease.footnote 1 As your child grows, teach him
    or her about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.

After your child’s permanent teeth begin to appear, usually
around age 6, talk with your dentist about having dental sealant placed on the
Sealants are made of hard plastic and protect the
chewing surfaces of the back teeth from decay.

Children play hard,
sometimes hard enough to knock out or break a tooth. Learn how to prevent
injuries to teeth, and what to do in a dental emergency. For more information,
see the topic Mouth and Dental Injuries.

Related Information



  1. American Dental Association (2009). ADA policy on cigarettes and other tobacco products
    . Available online:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD – Dentistry
Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine

Current as ofMay 7, 2017