How can I help prevent tooth decay in my child?

You can help prevent tooth decay in your child by monitoring or assisting with their twice-daily brushing routine. Make sure your child can spit prior to using toothspaste with fluoride. If your child is still bottle feeding, avoid letting your child sleep with bottle in the mouth, unless it's water. Reducing sugar and carbohydates in your child's diet also prevents tooth decay, as well.
There are several ways to decrease the risk of tooth decay in children. As soon as your child's first teeth erupt, it is important to keep them clean. In babies and toddlers you can use a wash cloth or toothbrush designed specifically for infants. As children get older, you can use small amounts (smear to pea sized) of normal or kids toothpaste. Children should not be put to bed with bottles or sippy cups of drinks that contain sugar. The dietary sugar in the presence of decay-causing bacteria is what leads to cavities. Limiting the sugar decreases the chance of cavities. As kids get older, monitor their dietary sugar in the form of soda and candy. All the while, it is important to take your child to the dentist for regular checkups after their first tooth erupts or by age one.
Aaron B. Schwartz, DDS
Pediatric Dentistry
  • Limit carbohydrate snacking ONLY 2 times or less in between meals and limit that duration of snack time to a short duration.
  • Fluoridated toothpaste 3x/day (after breakfast, after school, and before bed) and HELP YOUR CHILD BRUSH.
  • Don't buy juice for the home.
  • Don't have your child drink chocolate/strawberry milk.
  • Make sure you don't have active tooth decay.
  • DON'T LET carbohydrates remain on your child's teeth after your child eats.
Mary J. Hayes, DDS
Pediatric Dentistry
  • Be Aware: Daily diet and oral hygiene habits are so important!
  • Watch out for simple carbs; the sugary foods and drinks; cooked starches as in breads and pastas -- the bacteria that cause decay eat those too.
  • Know that within 20 minutes of a simple sugar being eaten, the bacteria that cause decay are making acids that hurt the tooth enamel.
  • Brush at least 2 times/day: more often if your child is a "carb" kid. In our practice, we recommend for them after meals and before bed (4-5 x/ day!)
  • Put out real fruit and veggies for snacks; protein such as cheese and soy are good too.  
  • Drink water when thirsty: Sweetened water (juice diluted) trains your child's taste buds to expect sweet. 
  • Drink water when dehydrated: sports drinks are for after 45 minutes of intense exercise. Regular activity: drink water! (Fluoridated water is best.)
  • Have a regular dentist and bring in your child as recommended.  Prevention is done at both home and through exam and treatment.
  • Take care of your own teeth! You are the best model your child has to understand the value of oral health as part of overall health.
The best way it to start good oral hygiene habits early. Teach your children to brush at least twice a day, avoid excessive sugary food and drinks (truthfully, substitute water for soda and sugary juices -- it will go a long way in keeping your children healthier). Don’t let them sleep with sippy cups or bottles – this keeps whatever is in them (probably not water) on their teeth all night. Just doing these few things will really give your children a head start on good oral hygiene.
Good oral hygiene, diet, regular visits to the dentist, and fluoride can help prevent decay in children. After eating your child you or your child should brush or floss their teeth. Limit soft drinks and chewy candy and brush immediately after eating. Regular dental visits can help pick up on potential problem areas. Fluoride in the drinking water can help make the enamel more resistant to cavities.

Prevention of tooth decay can be accomplished in many forms. First and foremost is brushing and flossing teeth on a regular basis. This prevents buildup of food particles on teeth. Having teeth professionally cleaned in a dental office at least every six months is a great way of keeping up with oral health and being informed and staying up on the problem areas. One's diet also can play an important role in tooth decay prevention. Generally food with high sugar content and sticky food cause more decay because they have more sugar for bacteria to digest and they stay on tooth surface for longer period of time, making it easier for bacteria to have access to them. So generally speaking the cleaner the teeth are for longer periods of time the fewer problems you will have with them.

Teaching your child good oral hygiene habits, like brushing after eating and before bed is the first thing to help prevent cavities. Having your child avoid soda and other sugary foods and beverages and to use fluoride containing toothpaste is also important. Finally, never let young children sleep with a bottle or sippy cup in their mouths as this promotes tooth decay.
The good news is that tooth decay is almost completely preventable. You can help prevent tooth decay for your child by following the tips below:

  • Lower the risk of the baby's infection with decay-causing bacteria. This can be done two ways -- by improving the oral health of the mother/caregiver which reduces the number of bacteria in her mouth and by not sharing saliva with the baby through common use of feeding spoons or licking pacifiers and giving them to babies.
  • After each feeding, wipe the baby's gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth. This will remove plaque and bits of food that can harm erupting teeth. When your child's teeth begin to erupt, brush them gently with a child's size toothbrush and water. (Consult with your child's dentist or physician if you are considering using fluoride toothpaste before age two.)
  • When your child can be counted on to spit and not swallow toothpaste (usually not before age two), begin brushing the teeth with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. The American Dental Association recommends fluoride toothpaste; ask your dentist about your child's fluoride needs.
  • Brush your child's teeth until he or she is at least six years old.
  • Place only formula, milk or breast milk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
  • Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed.
  • If your child uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean -- don't dip it in sugar or honey, or put it in your mouth before giving it to the child.
  • Encourage children to drink from a cup by their first birthday and discourage frequent or prolonged use of a training (sippy) cup.
  • Encourage healthy eating habits that include a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Serve nutritious snacks and limit sweets to mealtimes.
  • Ensure that your child has adequate exposure to fluoride. Discuss your child's fluoride needs with your dentist or pediatrician.

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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.