Dr. Larry Shults specializes in pediatric dentistry, which means he is well trained and focused on treating children with special needs, as well as infants, toddlers, and adolescents. Below are some common questions about dental care for kids with some answers about how to care for your child’s mouth and 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 within 6 months of your child’s first tooth coming 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 individual 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 towards young patients, you’ll find that our Team, 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 our team 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 visits 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 6 months. Depending on the circumstance of your child’s oral health, more frequent visits or cleanings may be helpful and 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 the outcome that can be provided.

Baby teeth don’t last forever; so 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 serve as a blueprint or guide to hold space in the jaw for the developing permanent teeth. If a child loses a tooth too early – due to trauma, infection, or decay – the neighboring teeth may move into that space, which can result in a crowded, rotated, 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 and clean damp washcloth or piece of gauze. When that first tooth makes an entrance, it is time to upgrade to a soft bristled baby sized toothbrush. There are usually 2 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 finger. In each case the bristles are soft appropriate for a smaller mouth. At this stage, toothpaste isn’t necessary, you can just dip the brush in water before brushing, remember it’s the bristles not the toothpaste that does the cleaning. 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?

Once your child has teeth, you can start using toothpaste on the brush, but only need to use 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 if swallowed. 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 develops around the age of 6 or 7 years old. Ask Dr. Shults about prescription strength Fluoride toothpaste if you child is at risk, to help with cavity prevention.

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 demineralizing or “eating” a hole through the enamel 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. Children’s most difficult challenge with brushing seems to be not effectively cleaning each tooth, due to rushing through it too quickly or not angling the toothbrush to make contact with each tooth. Flossing daily is also very important, as flossing can reach the area 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. Give the mouth a rest period and avoid sugary foods and drinks, limiting too frequent snacking, and maintain a healthy low sugar diet. Make regular dental appointments with your Pediatric dentist to check the health of your child’s mouth and to provide professional cleanings and guidance.

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, infections, gum and bone disease, as well as other problems like missing or extra teeth in the mouth. Dr. Shults can determine how extensive the problem is and which treatment is best for your child. 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 can help 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 help 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 who are active playing sports. If your little one plays football, basketball, soccer, or other sports, ask us about your options including having us make a custom-fitted mouth guard 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 orthodontics “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 teeth or mouth?

If you have a dental emergency or trauma to the teeth or mouth, call our team at 480-634-5686 immediately. If you need urgent treatment after hours, you can call our emergency number we have on our voicemail. We are always here to assist you when your child’s dental health is at risk. Below are some tips for 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 the lip or tongue severely enough to cause bleeding, clean the bitten area 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 the teeth, use dental floss with a knot tied in it to gently remove it. Never use a metal, plastic, or sharp tools to remove a stuck object. If you are not able 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 the tooth, have them rinse with warm water, then use a cold compress to help reduce swelling. Try to locate and save the tooth fragment that broke off and keep it moist in a container of milk or saliva. Call us immediately.

Knocked Out Tooth

If your child’s tooth has been knocked out of the mouth, find the tooth and try to clean off any visible debris with milk or saliva, taking care to only touch the crown (the part you can see when it’s in place) of the tooth. If you can, place the tooth back in its socket and hold it in place with a clean towel or washcloth. If you can’t re-position the tooth back in 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 is possible to save the tooth.

Loose Baby Tooth

If your child has a very loose baby tooth, it should be removed to allow the permanent tooth to come in and, to avoid discomfort when eating, or being swallowed, or inhaled.


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

Broken Jaw

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

Avoiding Injury

In some cases you may be able to help your child avoid dental emergencies. Childproof your house where possible to help avoid falls and bumps. Use caution to help keep your child from chewing on hard non-food items like toys, or on ice, popcorn kernels, or other hard foods. Always use car seats for young children and require seat belt use for older children. If your child plays a contact sport, have them wear an athletic mouth guard. Finally, you can prevent toothaches with regular brushing, flossing, healthy diet, and regular visits with us at your pediatric dental office.