Dr. Larry Shults specializes in pediatric dentistry, which means his focus is on treating infants, children, and adolescents. Below are common questions about dental for kids and answers about the best way to care for children’s teeth.

When should I schedule my child’s first visit to the dentist?

Dr. Shults recommends the first appointment be scheduled to see a pediatric dentist as soon as your child’s first tooth comes in. Our office follows the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommending that a child be seen 6 months after his/her first tooth erupts or by 1 year of age, whichever is first.

How is a pediatric dentist different from other dentists?

Like medical specialists such as your pediatrician, all specialists offering dental for kids (pediatric dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, and others) begin by completing dental school, and then continue their education with several more years of additional, specialized training. During training in the field of pediatric dentistry, Dr. Larry Shults DDS, MsD gained extensive knowledge and experience in treating infants, children, and adolescents with all of their varied needs. Pediatric dentists enjoy working with children, and bring to each patient the expertise in childhood development, psychology, and behavior. Because our office is geared toward young patients, you’ll find that our staff, as well as our office design, decorations and activities, all work together to provide an especially friendly and comfortable environment for children.

What happens during my child’s first visit to the dentist?

The first visit is usually short and simple. In most cases, we focus on getting to know your child and giving you some basic information about dental care. Your Pediatric dentist will check your child’s teeth for proper development and overall health, and look for any potential problems with the teeth, gums, and jaw. If necessary, we may do a thorough cleaning and demonstrate the way to maintain a clean mouth at home. We will also answer any questions you have about how to care for your child’s teeth as they develop, and provide you with materials containing helpful tips about their diet that you can refer to at home.

How can I prepare my child for his first dental appointment?

The best preparation for your child’s first visit to our office is fostering a positive attitude about the pediatric dentist. Children may be easily influenced by adults’ apprehensions, and if negative comments are made about visits to the dentist, it will be more likely that your child will fear an unpleasant experience and act anxious or afraid. Show your child the pictures of the office and staff on our web site or read a positive book about going to the dentist. Let your child know and show them that it’s important to keep their teeth and gums healthy, and that the pediatric dentist will help them to do that. Remember that your pediatric dentist is specially trained to address fears and anxiety, and our staff excels at putting children at ease during their visit with us.

How often should my child visit the dentist?

Starting at age 1 year old Dr. Shults recommends scheduling regular checkups at least every six months. Depending on the circumstance of your child’s oral health, more frequent visits or cleanings may be recommended. Remember that if there is ever a dental emergency or trauma to the mouth, the sooner your child is seen by a pediatric dentist the better outcome can be provided.

Baby teeth aren’t permanent; why do they need special care?

Although primary or “baby” teeth don’t last as long as permanent teeth, your child’s first teeth play a very important role in their oral development. While they are in place, the “baby” teeth help your little one speak, smile, and chew properly. Most importantly they also hold space in the jaw for the future permanent teeth. If a child loses a tooth too early – due to damage or decay – the nearby teeth may move into that space, which can result in a crooked or misplaced permanent tooth. Also, your child’s general health can be affected by their oral health and many studies are now showing a link between our dental health and the overall health of our bodies.

What’s the best way to clean my baby’s teeth?

Even before your baby’s first tooth appears, we recommend you clean the gums after feedings with a soft damp washcloth or piece of gauze. When that first tooth makes an entrance, it’s time to upgrade to a baby toothbrush. There are usually two options: a long-handled toothbrush that you and your baby can hold at the same time, and a finger-puppet-like brush that fits over the tip of your pointer finger. In each case the bristles are soft and few. At this stage, toothpaste isn’t necessary; just dip the brush in water before brushing. If your little one doesn’t react well to the introduction of a toothbrush, don’t give up; switch back to a damp washcloth for a few months, then try the toothbrush again. During the teething process your child will want to chew on just about anything—a baby toothbrush with a teething end can become a favorite toy and comfort during this period.

At what age is it appropriate to use toothpaste to clean my child’s teeth?

Once your child has a few teeth, you can start using toothpaste on the brush. Use only a small “rice sized smear” amount for each cleaning. Be sure to choose an ADA approved toothpaste without fluoride for younger children until they are able to spit out the excess. Too much fluoride can be dangerous for young children. Parents should help brush and floss the child’s teeth until they have developed the fine motor skills needed to clean effectively on their own, which usually happens around age six or seven.

What causes cavities?

Many different types of bacteria live in our mouths and body. When some of these bacteria feed on the sugary foods left behind on our teeth after eating, they produce acids. These acids attack and erode the enamel on the exterior of the teeth, eventually eating through the enamel and creating “holes” in the teeth, which we call cavities.

How can I help my child avoid cavities?

Help your children to brush their teeth at least 2 times a day for at least 2 minutes. Flossing daily is also very important, as flossing can reach spots between the teeth that brushing alone can not. Check with your pediatric dentist about fluoride use, which can help tooth enamel become harder and more resistant to decay. Avoid sugary foods and drinks, limit too frequent snacking, and maintain a healthy diet. Make regular dental appointments with your Pediatric dentist to check the health of your child’s mouth and to provide professional cleanings and instruction.

How does fluoride help?

Tooth enamel is the strong white outside layer of the tooth. Fluoride is a naturally occurring substance that makes tooth enamel stronger and more resistant to decay. Fluoride is often added to municipal water supplies that are lacking this important mineral. Fluoride can also be given as a prescription for those who do not have the benefit of fluoridated water and are at a high risk for dental cavities. These two ways of getting fluoride help the enamel become stronger as it is forming early in life. To help teeth already in the mouth, you can use an ADA accepted fluoride toothpaste or ask Dr. Shults about a prescription strength fluoride toothpaste for your child. In addition to this, Dr. Shults may recommend a topical fluoride application treatment after your child’s cleaning to further decrease the risk of tooth decay.

How do x-rays help?

Dr. Shults offers the latest in digital X-ray technology greatly reducing your child’s exposure. X-rays help Dr. Shults to diagnose cavities, gum/bone disease, and other problems in the mouth. Dr. Shults can determine how large the problem is and which treatment is best. In addition, X-rays are a valuable tool in assessing the growth and development of your child’s permanent teeth and oral structures allowing him to find and treat potential problem areas.
Dr. Shults will make recommendations on which types of x-rays are best for your child and when it is important to take them. Dental x-rays are a safe and simple way to gather important information that helps us care for your child.

Why dental sealants?

Dr. Shults offers dental pit and fissure sealants that help to protect your child’s permanent teeth and prevent dental decay. Your child may need sealants on the first permanent molars that usually erupt around age 6 or 7. Most children this age are not able to brush and properly clean these back teeth well. Over 80% of cavities occur in the deep grooves on the molars’ surface. Sealants fill in these deep hard to reach pits and grooves, which reduces the chance of food and bacteria getting in and causing cavities. Sealants are a very easy procedure for your child to have and can prevent the need for more invasive treatment.

My child plays sports; how can I protect their teeth?

Most sports involve some level of contact, and Dr. Shults recommends an athletic mouth guard for all children active in sports. If your little one plays football, basketball, soccer, or other sports, ask us about having a custom-fitted mouth guard made to protect the teeth, lips, cheeks, and gums.

What should I do if my child sucks their thumb or fingers?

Pediatric dentists realize that there are many children who suck their thumbs or fingers as infants/toddlers. Many children will grow out of this habit on their own, without causing any permanent damage to their teeth. If your child continues sucking after the permanent teeth erupt, or sucks aggressively there is often a need to correct improper tooth movements with orthodontic braces later in life. Dr. Shults will determine if there is any potential for problems, and he can help with corrective procedures if needed.

What do I do if my child has an injury to the mouth?

If you face a dental emergency, give us a call immediately. If you need urgent treatment after hours, you can call our emergency number. We are always here to assist when your child’s dental health is at risk. Below are tips on dealing with urgent dental situations; you may want to display this list on your refrigerator or store it near your emergency phone numbers for easy reference.

Bitten Lip or Tongue

If your child has bitten his lip or tongue severely enough to cause bleeding, clean the bite gently with water and use a cold compress (a cold, wet towel or washcloth pressed firmly against the area) to reduce or avoid swelling. Give us a call to help determine how serious the bite is.

Object Caught In Teeth

If your child has something caught between his teeth, use dental floss to gently remove it. Never use a metal, plastic, or sharp tool to remove a stuck object. If you are unable to remove the item with dental floss, give us a call.

Broken, Chipped, or Fractured Tooth

If your child has chipped or broken a piece off of his tooth, have him rinse his mouth with warm water, then use a cold compress to reduce swelling. Try to locate and save the tooth fragment that broke off. Call us immediately.

Knocked Out Tooth

If your child’s tooth has been knocked out of his mouth, find the tooth and rinse it with water (no soap), taking care to only touch the crown of the tooth (the part you can see when it’s in place). If you can, place the tooth back in its socket and hold it in place with a clean towel or cloth. If you can’t return the tooth to its socket, place it in a clean container with milk. In either case, call us immediately and/or head to the hospital. If you act quickly it’s possible to save the tooth.
Loose Tooth
If your child has a very loose tooth, it should be removed to avoid being swallowed or inhaled.


If your child complains of a toothache, rinse his mouth with warm water and inspect his teeth to be sure there is nothing caught between them. If pain continues, use a cold compress to ease the pain. Do not apply heat or any kind of aspirin or topical pain reliever directly to the affected area, as this can cause damage to the gums. Children’s pain relievers may be taken orally. Schedule an appointment immediately.

Broken Jaw

If you know or suspect your child has sustained a broken jaw, use a cold compress to reduce swelling. Call our emergency number and/or head to the hospital immediately. In many cases a broken jaw is the result of a blow to the head. Severe blows to the head can be dangerous and even life threatening.

Avoiding Injury

You can help your child avoid dental emergencies. Childproof your house to avoid falls. Don’t let your child chew on ice, popcorn kernels, or other hard foods. Always use car seats for young children and require seat belts for older children. And if your child plays contact sports, have him wear an athletic mouth guard. Ask us about creating a custom-fitted mouth guard for your child. Finally, prevent toothaches with regular brushing, flossing, healthy diet, and regular visits to your pediatric dental office.