Preventing Tooth Decay in Young Children

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Tooth decay and cavities are caused by bacteria eating away the outer protective layer (enamel) of a tooth. You can help prevent tooth decay in your child with these healthy habits.

  • Teach your child to brush and floss every day.

    When your child's first teeth come in, clean the teeth with a soft toothbrush. If your child is younger than 3 years, ask the dentist about using a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Use a pea-sized amount for children ages 3 to 6 years. Help your child floss when their teeth touch each other.

  • Take good care of your own teeth and gums.

    Saliva contains bacteria that cause tooth decay. Keep your own teeth and mouth healthy so you are less likely to transfer these bacteria to your baby. Avoid sharing spoons and other utensils with your baby. Also, don't "clean" your baby's pacifier with your mouth.

  • Prevent prolonged contact with sugars in formula, breast milk, juice, or other sugary liquid.

    Remove a bottle from your baby's mouth before they fall asleep. This can help prevent baby bottle tooth decay. Try to clean your baby's teeth after feeding, especially at night.

  • Offer water instead of juice.

    Juice is not part of a healthy diet. Compared to a piece of fruit, fruit juice doesn't have the valuable fiber, it usually has more calories, and it is absorbed differently.

  • Introduce cups for drinking.

    Try this at age 12 months or earlier. It'll be messy. Try offering water in an open cup or a cup with a straw. During the day, see if your child likes playing with an empty cup.

  • Provide healthy foods for your child.

    Offer meals and snacks that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products.

  • Use fluoride supplements only as directed.

    If your child needs extra fluoride, the dentist may recommend a supplement or may apply fluoride to your child's teeth. Keep fluoride supplements out of your child's reach.

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Current as of: August 6, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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