When Charlie Met Dr. Shaw: Shanghai Dental Care Basics for Kids

My daughter, Charlie, has been eager to go to the dentist for months. Mainly because we told her she can’t get an electric toothbrush like her dad until the dentist gives the okay. She’s already 3, but due to complicated reasons I won’t get into, we have only now been able to take her the dentist. Actually, kids should start to see the dentist when their first tooth appears or by age 1 (whichever happens first).


Needless to say, Charlie was super excited. In theory. We had read books about going to the dentist, and she happily bounded towards PureSmile, posing for photos before we entered.


When she had to actually lie back in the dentist chair and have her face prodded gently, it was another story. She got freaked out and had to be persuaded (repeatedly) to keep her mouth open. At this age, a dental check-up doesn’t involve a cleaning or treatment. The dentist just needs to take a look and provide dental care advice. Taking a look is harder than you’d think when a squirmy, nervous toddler is in the chair! Thankfully, Dr. Shaw was patient and cheerful, chatting with Charlie in English and Chinese to put her at ease.


To prepare for a dental visit, Dr. Shaw, a father of 3 himself, says:

Children generally have fear with any health professional that wears white coat and gloves. Before their first dental visit, there will be plenty of negative experiences with vaccinations and other medical examinations.  My recommendation is:

  1. Talk to a child of same sex that is few years older who can relate a positive dental experience.
  2. Watch Dora the Explorer or educational cartoons about a dental visit weeks before their appointment.
  3. Expect your child will be shy when they enter a new environment which they aren’t familiar with. Feel free to bring them to the dental office for a quick 5 minute water stop and say hello to the staff before their actual visit to their dentist.


Dr. Shaw asked Charlie about her brushing habits and was happy to hear that she has been brushing twice a day since her first tooth peeked out of her gums. We did miss the memo about floss, though. Oops. When you start brushing, you should also start flossing every night. Until they’re 3, it’s easiest to have your child lie down on a flat surface for you to floss and brush. Once they’re 3, mom or dad can watch to make sure they’re doing it correctly.


He emphasized that dental care should be fun and relaxed. Don’t stress too much about it. Let your child play with the floss sticks. Do it together! Dental care is going to be part of their life forever; don’t make it a chore.


Something else I didn’t know (sorry, baby girl!) is that in Shanghai, due to the lack of fluoride in the water, we need to take some extra steps to avoid cavities. Dr. Shaw noted that in his Shanghai practice, he sees far more cavities in children than in America due to the non-fluoridated water. Until the kids can rinse and spit, it’s recommended to use non-fluoridated toothpaste. But after age 3, and when they can predictably rinse and spit, he recommends to go up a stage (e.g. Charlie would use toothpaste for kids age 5+ instead of toddlers), or use the same stage toothpaste in conjunction with fluoridated mouthwash. (The general recommendation by the ADA is to start mouthwash from age 6-10.)


Tip from Dr. Shaw: Drinks Before Bed

Get out of the habit! Baby Bottle Syndrome is the rapid decay of teeth due to frequent exposure to liquids containing sugars, such as milk, soy milk, and juice. After teeth have been flossed, brushed, and mouthwashed, they are out of service for the day.


Now, you’re wondering, where should you get all these supplies? Dr. Shaw has some patients who haul heavy containers of mouthwash and space-consuming bags of [made-in-China] floss sticks from their home countries. He suggested, instead, buy directly from the official Listerine and Dentek Tmall stores, which he trusts and uses for his own family.


Guess what was on my 11-11 shopping list? No electronics or fashion buys for this mama. I stocked up on children’s Listerine mouthwash (raspberry flavor with an adorable duck for full toddler delight) and Dentek flossing sticks. Parenthood is sexy.


So I’m sure you’re dying to know if Charlie got her electric toothbrush, right?


Not yet! Dr. Shaw’s recommendation is that kids shouldn’t get an electric toothbrush until they are comfortable brushing their own teeth independently. “Kids need to be comfortable and in control brushing the whole tooth,” he says, “especially the area of the tooth around the gum, before they should move on to electric toothbrush.” And he emphasizes that they’re really not necessary! Some toddlers are afraid of the noise and vibrations from electric toothbrushes. They’re a great tool, but a manual toothbrush is just fine.


So, for now, Charlie is working on getting super confident with her solo-brushing before she can get her electric toothbrush, just like Daddy. Start the 2020 11-11 shopping list!


Tip from Dr Shaw: Handedness and Brushing

Generally, left-handed people (children and adults) will miss the left front corner between the lateral incisor and canine, and right-handed brushers, the right side. Watch your child while they brush to make sure they get the front corner! After brushing your own teeth, run your tongue around the tooth and feel if you missed any spot.



To book your own visit with Dr. Shaw or other child-friendly members of the PureSmile team, visit their website. They have locations in Jinqiao, Jing’an, Hongqiao, and Minhang.