How can I prevent my child from getting cavities?

David W. Zirlin, DMD
Pediatric Dentistry
A proper diet with good oral hygiene techniques and routine dental care from a dentist can help prevent early childhood cavities. Your dentist may make specialized suggestions for your child including fluoride recommendations and preventive sealants.
Early childhood cavities, or ECC, can almost always be prevented. The sooner you can teach your child to drink from a cup, the less likely they will be to develop ECC. If you give your child a bottle to drink from during the day or when you put them to bed at night, make sure it isn’t filled with anything but water.  Even a bottle full of milk can cause tooth decay. Avoiding sugary drinks and foods is a good idea as well, and you should never dip your child’s pacifier in anything sugary. It is also important to practice proper oral hygiene for your child. This means using a soft brush or cloth with a little bit of water to clean their teeth following meals. On top of all that, you should schedule regular dental checkups for your baby to make sure their teeth are developing properly and staying healthy.
Megan  Chin, DDS
Pediatric Dentistry
Here's how you can help prevent cavities in your child:

  • Take your infant to the dentist early and regularly.
  • Feed your child healthy snacks and meals.
  • Practice good oral hygiene.
  • Make sure your child is receiving enough fluoride.
  • Have your child's teeth sealed.

  • Let your child be a grazer.
  • Assume that only candy and sweets cause cavities.
  • Share utensils with your child.
  • Only drink bottled water.
  • Allow your child to brush or floss without supervision.
You can prevent your child from getting cavities by taking care of her teeth as soon as they start to come in. Brush each pearly white gently with a little water (don't use toothpaste until she's at least 2 years old). Once she has two teeth that are side by side, use a little dental floss to clean between them. The American Dental Association recommends taking a child to the dentist when her teeth start coming in or at least by age 1.

Once your child is 2, you can start brushing her teeth with a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste twice a day. You'll need to do the brushing until she's at least 6 or 7, but you can let her help you brush so that she starts to learn how. Teach her how to rinse and spit.

Here are other things you should do to prevent your child from getting cavities:
  • If she's still drinking from a bottle or sippy cup, don't let her fall asleep with the bottle or cup in her mouth. The sugars in milk, formula or juice will sit on her gums and teeth and breed bacteria that will lead to cavities.
  • Offer her nutritious food, and limit sugary drinks and candy.
  • Find out if the water in your town is fluoridated. If it's not, your pediatrician or dentist may prescribe vitamins that include fluoride.
  • Take your child to the dentist twice a year.
  • Once her molars come in, ask her dentist about sealants, a thin layer of resin that can help protect the molars from bacteria.
Follow these tips to help prevent your child from getting cavities:
  • Brush your child's teeth with a fluoride toothpaste after each time she eats. If that isn't possible, be sure to brush her teeth at least twice a day, especially before bedtime. Brush the teeth up and down in a circular motion. Children as young as two or three can begin to use toothpaste, as long as they are supervised. A pea-size amount of toothpaste is all that is needed for a toddler. Make sure she spits it out instead of swallowing it.
  • Floss between each of your child's teeth at least once a day. Children can be taught to floss their own teeth when they are seven or eight years old.
  • Sealants, which are made from a resin, can be applied to keep bacteria away from permanent teeth. This is especially helpful on the molars (back teeth) because they are hard to reach and can be missed when brushing, allowing cavities to form.
  • Limit the amount of sweets and sodas that your child eats. Be sure your child has regular checkups with her dentist.
Mary J. Hayes, DDS
Pediatric Dentistry

Prevention starts early.

  1. Be aware that the routine for oral hygiene/tooth brushing starts when the first tooth comes in. Tooth brushing is a part of the daily routine for your baby and toddler and child and teen: every age and stage. Parents are directly doing the brushing, then indirectly (hand over hand), then supervising (watching in the mirror), then monitoring (reminding). Floss when two teeth touch: parents in charge till age 7-10. Kids don't have the find motor skills till they can write cursive or tie shoe laces.
  2. Be aware of the carbs in your diet: simple carbs are more directly taken up by the bacteria that cause decay, but cooked starches such as pastas and breads must be monitored as well. Eat a balance diet: not carb heavy.
  3. At your child's regular dental visits, ask your dentist for a caries (decay) risk assessment: high, medium, low. Depending on the answer, you will find our how well home care is doing. And how strict you need to be. 
Teaching your child good oral hygiene habits early can lead to a lifetime of good dental health. You can prevent your baby from developing tooth decay by developing an oral hygiene routine within the first few days after birth. As soon as teeth begin to erupt, brush them gently with a child's size toothbrush and water. The ADA recommends that a dentist examine a child within six months after the first tooth comes in and no later than the first birthday.

Once your child is two, begin brushing his teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. (Ask your child's dentist or physician if you are considering using fluoride toothpaste before age two.) Until your child is six or seven years old, continue to brush his or her teeth twice a day with a child’s size toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and continue to assist with flossing as needed.

Dental disease is almost entirely preventable and untreated dental disease can lead to serious health problems. To help prevent cavities, schedule regular dental checkups for your child and teach him to brush teeth twice a day, floss between teeth once a day and eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks.
The best way you can help your child avoid cavities is by teaching her good oral hygiene habits early in life. This does not have to mean that you take half an hour every day to brush and floss. It just means that she should get used to brushing with fluoride-containing toothpaste at least twice a day -- for example, after breakfast and after dinner -- and flossing once a day.

Visiting the dentist twice a year is also important because the hygienist will thoroughly clean your child's teeth while the dentist will make sure the teeth are healthy. The dentist may also suggest sealants, which are very thin, clear coatings placed on the surfaces of the back teeth (molars). The sealants help to reduce the build-up of plaque deep in the grooves of these teeth.

Finally, don't forget the importance of a healthy diet in preventing cavities. Limiting sugary snacks, offering water instead of soda and fruit juice, and encouraging overall healthy eating can help in making sure your child's health, and the health of her teeth, are as good as possible.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.