Myth and Reality Regarding Early Children’s Dental Care

There are many common myths in our society related to the dental care of both adults and children.  This discussion will highlight some of the common myths and misconceptions regarding early children’s dental care.

Myth #1: A Mother’s dental health does not affect her Child’s dental health.

This is False.  Research has shown that the dental health of both parents and especially that of the mother affect the dental health of children.  This even extends to the mother’s dental health before the child is born, making it extremely important for expectant mothers to maintain good oral health throughout their pregnancy.  This means not only maintaining an excellent at-home oral hygiene regime but also adding professional dental check-ups and care to the recommended pre-natal care that many women now seek.

Myth #2: A developing baby that has not yet been born can “strip” or “steal” calcium from the pregnant mother and then cause her to develop cavities, soft teeth or bad gums as a result.

This is False.  This is also related to the first myth discussed.  Many women have developed cavities during pregnancy, sometimes even a large number of cavities.  Some of these women have even reported that they never had a cavity before getting pregnant, leading to this myth.  The reality is that some women may develop gum disease (a.k.a. gingivitis) associated with the hormone changes that occur with pregnancy, but maintaining good oral hygiene throughout the pregnancy should ensure that no cavities develop and no teeth are lost.  The risk of developing cavities during pregnancy is also increased by changes in eating habits that often accompany pregnancy as well as issues like “morning sickness” and frequent “heart burn”.  By adding professional dental care to the pre-natal health regime, we give expecting mothers the opportunity to discuss the specifics of their pregnancy with their dental professional and helpful recommendations can be made.

Myth #3: Baby teeth are not important because they are just going to fall out.

This is False.  Baby teeth have an important role in the normal growth and development of a child.  Baby (primary) teeth help the child to eat a proper balanced and healthy diet, have a role in proper speech development and are very important to the normal development of the face, jaws, and permanent (adult) teeth.  The health of the baby teeth has an important effect on the health and alignment of the adult teeth, so to have healthy adult teeth means keeping the baby teeth healthy.

Myth #4: The baby teeth all fall out at one time or over a very short period of time.

This is False.  Many people think that the baby teeth fall out all at one time or even over a relatively short period of time (within a year).  In reality it takes 5 to 6 years for most children to lose all of their baby teeth.  Most children can be expected to have their first adult tooth grow in at 6 years of age. Many parents are unaware that these permanent teeth have even erupted, because in most children, this will begin before the first baby tooth falls out.  Many children will not lose their last baby tooth until they are about twelve years old.  This means that over this six-year period there are some adult teeth present and some baby teeth present.  Since tooth decay is an infectious process, if there have been any cavities present in the baby teeth, they can then spread to the adult teeth.

Myth #5: Since baby teeth are not important it is not important to take children to the dentist until they are at least 3 years old and 5 years old may be even better.

This is False.  We have already discussed the importance of baby teeth and the country’s leading organization for children’s dental health care, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry ( and the American Academy of Pediatrics (, recommend that all children see a dental professional within six months of the first tooth starting to grow in and no later than one year of age.  They also recommend that all children have a “Dental Home” established by one year of age.  This gives the child a chance to see a dental professional with whom they may become familiar and comfortable over time and it gives the dental professional a chance to be proactive in helping the family to prevent cavities before they develop.  One way this can be done is through monitoring and adjusting the child’s exposure to fluoride.  In the proper dosage, fluoride is one of the most effective tools in the prevention of cavities.  An early dental visit can be very beneficial in allowing your dental professional to assist you in ensuring your child receives the proper daily fluoride exposure.

Myth #6: My child wants to brush their teeth without my help, so I should let them do so.

This is False.  It is not only important to put the tooth brush in the mouth, it is extremely important to use the tooth brush in the proper manner to maintain good oral hygiene.  Just as we would not put a child in a tub of water by herself and expect her to come out properly clean without assistance, we cannot expect our children to clean their own teeth without our help.  Many parents are surprised to learn that it is even important to help their older children to brush their teeth.  The general rule of thumb is that if a child cannot yet tie their own shoelaces, then they are not yet able to use their hands well enough to be able to do a good job brushing their own teeth. A pea-size amount or small “smear” of toothpaste on the toothbrush is sufficient to get its positive benefits and will help avoid the negative effects possible from over exposure.

There are many more myths and misconceptions regarding dental health, too many to try to address in this one forum.  To maintain good oral health throughout life, it is important to not only brush at least two times a day, floss at least once a day, and control sugar intake in the diet, it is also important to see a dental professional on a regular basis and to start early for your children.  Additional information can be obtained at both and or you can ask your own dental professional.


Christopher A. Cotterill, DMD
ECU School of Dental Medicine
Division of Pediatric Dentistry
Assistant Clinical Professor