Expert Interview: Dr.Jennifer Salzar

This weeks expert is with Dr. Jennifer Salzar, a pediatric dentist and associate faculty member at New York University College of Dentistry. Dr. Salzar, who is also the mother of four, was great enough to help answer some of our of questions about childrens dental health.


What is a common mistake made with dental care in young children?

One common mistake is not starting dental care in young children early enough. For example, parents can start providing dental care to their children as early as 4-24 months, because proper oral care for children begins before the first tooth erupts. Oral health is an area that deserves attention from an early age, but unfortunately it is often overlooked. Poor oral health can lead to other issues as the child grows, so it’s important to instill proper habits from the beginning.

At what age should parents really begin brushing gum’s/teeth?

Parents can start providing dental care to their children as early as 4-24 months. For children at this age, parents should ensure their child visits a pediatric dental professional by their first birthday to assess risks and dental development. They should also focus on developing good bedtime habits, including brushing teeth and avoiding using feeding as a signal for bed, which can expose teeth to sugary drinks like formula or juice. Additionally, to prevent tooth decay, children should not fall asleep with a bottle that contains anything other than water.

If the baby does not yet have teeth, parents should take precaution by gently wiping baby’s gums with a soft, clean cloth. And when a baby’s first teeth come in, use a toothbrush that is specifically designed to brush baby’s gums and teeth, like the Oral-B Stage 1 toothbrush.

How do you feel about thumb sucking versus a pacifier, is one worse than the other?

While comforting for a baby, both the pacifier and thumb sucking can alter the shape of a child’s mouth. Usually, thumb sucking is a harder habit to break (since it can’t be taken away!), so thumb suckers tend to hold on to the habit longer, leading to more malpositioning of the teeth. Parents should try to take pacifiers away by 6 months if possible, although any mother knows, sleep is everyone’s main goal at this stage, so it will be difficult!

When should your first pediatric dentist appointment be?

Parents should schedule a checkup with the dentist for their baby at their pediatrician’s recommendation. A good rule of thumb is: “First visit by first birthday.”

Any tips for handling multiple children at the appointment, especially if their sibling becomes scared?

If the child is having a simple visit, like a check-up or cleaning, its usually fine for siblings to be at the appointment. They will see how easy the visit can be and the older sibling will likely feel comforted and proud to have their brother or sister with them. However, if it’s for a more involved procedure, it’s probably best to sit in the waiting room with the little ones, mostly so they are not a distraction to both the patient and dentist.

Do you recommend any products for older children who want to feel more independent with brushing their teeth?

Parents can look for products that have bright colors and fun graphic combinations that appeal to older children, while also making sure that the product is specifically designed to address older children’s dentition (formation of their teeth and jaw), dexterity (ability to handle a toothbrush) and development (emotional changes and interest).
For example, The Oral-B Stage 4 brush is for the child with a mixture of permanent and baby teeth. These pre-teens are losing and replacing teeth all the time, resulting in gaps that can be uncomfortable or even painful during brushing. The Oral-B Stage 4 brush features a combination of CrissCross bristles for cleaning, massaging bristles for sensitive gaps and a Power Tip to effectively reach and clean back teeth. The handle is similar to an adult handle, but sized to optimally fit a child’s hand for comfort and control.

Should children be using a manual or an electric toothbrush?

Either a manual or electric toothbrush are fine to do the job. In certain situations, an electric toothbrush is helpful, for example during orthodontic treatment. There are several battery-powered brushes from Oral-B Stages that make brushing fun for children, including Disney Princesses, “Power Rangers”, “Wall-E” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”


For more information on your childrens dental health visit the Academic Pediatrics article “Special Issue on Children’s Oral Health”.

When did you take your children to their first dentist appointment? Any tips?

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  1. This is a hot topic in our home this month. Our trips are 17 months old and a few weeks ago I was really prying their mouths open and found that 2 of them had a hard buildup on their lower two teeth that I couldn't get off with my fingernail. Thinking I was overreacting, I still called the DDS and he peeked in both mouths, scraped them and then had us back for our first cleaning! I said, What? Already? But he was great with them. They screamed and it was OK, cause we needed them to open wide. It was fine and the babies soon forgot about it! Their saliva has a tendency to spill out more minerals than our other kiddos. So our dentist visits have begun! Much earlier than anticipated.

  2. Hubby and I went in for our 6 month cleaning last week and our dentist scheduled our twins for their first visit. We'll see how it goes with them!

  3. Thanks for some great tips. We are great about brushing the girls' teeth every morning and before bed…but haven't made it to the dentist yet. I'll be scheduling an appointment for them TODAY! Thanks!

  4. We haven't taken our boys yet (2.5) as I asked our dentist when she'd like to see them and she said not until age 2 or 3 unless we see problems at home sooner than that.

    One of my boys is a blanket sucker. He seriously stuffs an insane amount of his blanket into his mouth. I'm starting to notice his jaw is shaped differently than his brothers (who don't suck on anything) and I'm pretty sure it's his darn blanket! I think we need a plan to get rid of that thing.

  5. Thanks for the info. I brought the triplets when I brought their older siblings. I can't imagine them actually GETTING cleanings, yet (like their older siblings). But for now…they're happy just to sit and have the dentist look in and make sure they're "okay".

  6. Thanks for the reminder. I need to get my oldest in for her first dental exam.

    Great tips here!

  7. We see a pediatric dentist and I cannot sing his praises enough. I had to take one of my daughters to the "regular" dentist for a chipped tooth. She refused to open her mouth. Fastforward a few months later to our first dental appointment at the pediatric dentist… she was asking to hold the tools and wanted to go back again the next day!

  8. Thumb suckers too should be weaned around 3-4. There is a fun new product called "Thumbuddy To Love" that helps break the thumb sucking habit and teaches kids that growing up can be fun. You can get it on Amazon or on their web site..Some dentists carry it too!Kids love it!

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