Our Children's Dentist in Oro Valley Answers Your Questions

1. What is a pediatric dentist?

A pediatric dentist is a dentist who completes an additional 2 or 3 years of training specific to the growth, development, and treatment of children. Serving families in and surrounding Tucson and Oro Valley, children’s dentists Dr. Marshall and Dr. Bunch specialize in oral care for all children (including those with special needs) from birth to 18 years of age.

At Northwest Children’s Dentistry, our primary goal is to focus on prevention and early detection of dental disease rather than just focus on dental disease. We tailor each child’s dental visit to their current level of emotional and overall development. Our hope is that by providing a positive environment with great prevention tools, our young patients will grow up enjoying the dentist and dental visits as well as practice healthy oral habits.

2. Why are healthy baby (primary) teeth important?

Primary teeth are very important for a variety of reasons. They are beneficial for chewing properly, speech development, and creating a beautiful smile. They also hold a space for the permanent teeth and guide them as they come in. Early loss of primary teeth can have lasting negative effects on the alignment of your child’s adult teeth.

Decay in primary teeth can result in pain and infection and may decrease your child’s quality of life. Children ought to be in school, playing, sleeping well, and not dealing with tooth pain. We believe healthy baby teeth are important and we’re committed to helping your child achieve and maintain good oral health.

3. At what age should my child first visit the dentist?

Our recommendation follows the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Every child should visit their dentist after the eruption of their first primary tooth and prior to 12 months of age. The hope is that parents receive prevention-based information prior to the development of any dental disease.

For parents, that first visit is a great opportunity to ask any questions regarding their child’s oral health and development. For dentists, it’s a great opportunity start the process of helping your child establish a lifetime of good oral health habits.

4. What should I expect for my child's first dental visit?

At Northwest Children’s Dentistry, we provide a caring environment focused on a positive introduction to dentistry for your child. Each child’s first dental visit is tailored according to the child’s age, behavior and oral needs as well as any keeping in mind any concerns by the parent.

In addition to the traditional visual and radiographic examination (if needed), our office will discuss the following topics: oral hygiene techniques and recommendations, the child’s diet with recommendations, common oral trauma and how to handle it, your child’s specific risk for dental disease and recommendations, the child’s oral habits and recommendations, and current growth and development tendencies with referrals as needed.

5. Does my child need x-rays and are they safe?

Radiographs (x-rays) are an important tool in providing your child with a thorough examination. In our office, we use digital radiography and shielding. This state-of-the-art technology minimizes your child’s exposure to radiation. The number and frequency of radiographs is tailored to each child’s individual risk assessment.

6. Does tooth grinding harm my child's teeth?

Typically, no. Tooth grinding is a common occurrence in young children. Although grinding itself sounds bad, treatment is often not necessary and the grinding often resolves on its own around age 6. For young adults with a full mouth of teeth who grind at night, therapies such as a night guards can reduce the wear on teeth. Night guards are rarely needed for young children because the primary teeth fall out before excessive grinding causes problems.

7. How do I help my child stop thumb sucking or using a pacifier?

Use of a pacifier or thumb/finger sucking is quite normal for infants and toddlers. However, some young children become very dependent on thumb sucking or pacifier use. Many children stop on their own, but if your child is still harboring these habits by the age of 2.5 years, we encourage parents to get involved.

Reasons for continued thumb sucking or pacifier use for each child varies but plays a role in why the child is dependent on the habit and gives us insight on how break it. There are many options to help them stop utilizing this habit including positive reinforcement and rewards. For older children, there are dental appliances available.

8. When should I take my child to the orthodontist?

Although many parents and children ask this question, the answer is very specific for your child. But as a general rule, many children can wait until all permanent teeth have come in before beginning orthodontic therapy. This usually occurs at around 10 to 13 years of age.

There are some children, however, with specific jaw growth and tooth placement patterns that benefit from orthodontic intervention as early as 5 years of age. At Northwest Children’s Dentistry, we will evaluate your child’s specific needs and refer to an orthodontist accordingly.

9. What are sealants and how do they prevent tooth decay?

Sealants are a plastic material that is placed in the pits and grooves of permanent molars. “Filling up” these pits and grooves with sealant helps stop food and bacteria from getting packed in them and thus, helps prevent tooth decay.

Permanent 6-year and 12-year molars benefit the most from sealants. Extensive research shows that sealants may prevent cavities in the pits and grooves about 50% of the time. The child does not need to have his/her teeth numbed when the sealants are placed.

10. When do children need fluoride toothpaste and how much is used?

We typically recommend fluoride toothpaste for patients at 2 years of age. However, depending on your child’s specific risk for tooth decay, we may recommend using fluoride toothpaste earlier than 2 years old.

At 2 years old, it is best to use a smear amount of toothpaste. By age 5, a pea-sized amount is recommended. Swallowing this small amount of toothpaste is safe, but there is no harm in beginning to teach your child to spit out the toothpaste as early as possible.

11. Does xylitol really help reduce cavities?

Yes. Research has shown that xylitol can help change the type of bacteria a person has in the mouth from cavity-causing bacteria to one that is less likely to cause cavities. Xylitol also helps reduce the formation of plaque as well as the amount of bacteria that sticks to the teeth. The most common form of xylitol used for cavity prevention is in the form of chewing gum.

12. When should I start brushing my baby’s teeth?

Serving Tucson and Oro Valley, children’s dentists Dr. Marshall and Dr. Bunch believe an early education is key to a healthy mouth. Early introduction of tooth brushing not only helps prevent tooth decay but also helps your child form a great habit that will last a lifetime. You should begin brushing your child’s teeth as soon as they erupt (usually around age 8 months). It is best to use a soft bristle toothbrush.

13. What kind of diet is best for a healthy mouth?

Parents are often surprised by some of our recommendations for changes in their child’s diet. Labels on food products can be confusing. Our basic overall recommendations are for children to eat a balanced diet, including whole fruits and vegetables daily, and drink water and milk. Juice should be limited to mealtimes and no more than a half glass per day for young children. Limit refined carbohydrates and frequent snacking.

14. Is it common for children to have tooth decay?

Yes. The National Institute of Health reports that 28% of children 2 to 5 years old and 51% of children 6 to 11 years old have tooth decay in primary teeth. Primary teeth are especially susceptible because they have less protective enamel.

The National Institute of Health reports that 10% of children 6 to 8 years old and 31% of children 9 to 11 years old have tooth decay in permanent teeth. Early prevention can help reduce the risk of tooth decay and sealants are a part of this prevention plan.

15. Do you allow parents to accompany their child?

At Northwest Children’s Dentistry, your Tucson and Oro Valley children’s dentist, we actually prefer parents to accompany their children. We feel this is the best way to effectively communicate your child’s dental health to you as well as give you, the parents, an opportunity to ask any specific questions you may have.

16. How do in-office fluoride treatments benefit my child?

In-office fluoride treatments have been shown to decrease tooth decay rates. For younger children, we prefer to use a topical fluoride varnish that is “painted” onto the teeth. The benefit for using a fluoride varnish is that children do not have to wait 30 minutes to eat or drink. We typically recommend in-office fluoride treatments twice per year for all ages. For those children with high risk for tooth decay, we recommend these treatments more often.

If you have any other questions, please contact us today to set up an appointment.

Thank you for choosing Northwest Children’s Dentistry as your family’s Tucson and Oro Valley children’s dentist.


Northwest Children’s Dentistry provides comprehensive care by a children’s dentist near Oro Valley. Dr. Bunch and Dr. Marshall are located in Tucson and serve the areas of Marana and Sahuarita, AZ.