Topic Overview

Infants and preschoolers

By the time your child is 6 months old, your doctor should assess the likelihood of your child having future dental problems. This may include a dental examination of the mother and her dental history, because the condition of her teeth can often predict possible problems with her child's teeth. If the doctor thinks your child will have dental problems, be sure your child sees a dentist by his or her first birthday or 6 months after the first primary teeth appear, whichever comes first. After your first visit, schedule regular visits every 6 months or as your dentist recommends.

Experts recommend that your child's visits to a dentist start within 6 months after the first teeth appear or at 12 months of age, whichever comes first. Babies with dental problems caused by injury, disease, or a developmental problem should be seen by a children's (pediatric) dentist right away. If these dental problems are not limited to the surfaces of the teeth, your baby should also be seen by a children's doctor (pediatrician) or your family doctor.

Talk with your child's dentist or doctor about the use of fluoride. If needed, your dentist may apply a fluoride gel, foam, or varnish to your child's teeth.

For more information, see the topics Basic Dental Care, Mouth and Dental Injuries, and Mouth Problems, Non-Injury.

Adults, teens, and school-age children

See your dentist once or twice a year. Your dentist will examine your teeth and gums for signs of tooth decay, gum disease, and other health problems.

  • Your dental hygienist will begin to clean your teeth by scraping hard mineral buildup (tartar) off your teeth with a small metal tool. Then the hygienist will floss your teeth, use a polishing compound, and may apply a fluoride gel, foam, or varnish. Cleanings usually aren't painful.
  • Sometimes your dentist will want to take X-rays. The X-rays take only a few minutes.
    • Your dentist or technician will have you put on a heavy apron to shield your body from X-rays. Everyone else in the room will either wear a protective apron or step behind a protective shield.
    • Your dentist or technician will have you bite down on a small piece of plastic. This will help align your teeth properly for the machine. Your dentist or technician will repeat this process several times to get pictures of all your teeth.
  • If needed, your dentist will put a sealant on the chewing surface of your back teeth to help prevent cavities. Sealants keep food and bacteria from getting stuck in the rough chewing surfaces or grooves of your teeth, and they protect your teeth from plaque.
  • If you are prone to infections, you may need to take antibiotics before you have any dental work. Talk to your dentist or doctor if you have questions about the need for antibiotics. You may need to take antibiotics if you:
    • Have heart valve problems, which put you at risk for endocarditis.
    • Have an impaired immune system.
    • Had recent major surgeries or have man-made body parts, such as an artificial hip or heart valve.
  • Your dentist or hygienist may ask you about the foods you eat. What you eat and whether you get enough vitamins and minerals can affect your dental health.
  • If you have active tooth decay or gum disease, your dentist will talk to you about changing your brushing or flossing habits. In severe cases, he or she may recommend antibiotics or other dental treatments. If your teeth and gums appear to be healthy, your dentist will probably recommend that you continue your usual brushing and flossing routine.

Your dentist may also look for early signs of oral cancer.

For more information, see the topics Basic Dental Care, Tooth Decay, and Oral Cancer.


Other Works Consulted

  • Canadian Dental Association (2003, revised 2012). CDA position on use of fluorides in caries prevention. Available online:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry

Current as ofNovember 20, 2015