Tooth decay, or cavities, is the most common dental problem among children. Tooth decay can begin as soon as a baby’s first tooth comes in.
In New York City, more than one out of three third grade children
If left untreated, tooth decay can cause health problems, pain, infection, difficulty eating and speaking, and reduced self-esteem. Once tooth decay develops, it must be treated by a dental professional or it will worsen. Signs of tooth decay are white or brown spots on
have untreated tooth decay.
Tooth decay can be prevented. Tooth brushing, a healthy diet, proper feeding habits, and professional dental care can help keep your child free of tooth decay.
► Read more about how to Keep Your Child's Mouth Healthy: Tips for Preventing Tooth Decay (PDF)
Tips for Keeping Your Child’s Mouth Healthy
► Brush teeth twice a day
- Wipe the gums. Before your baby has teeth, wipe the gums with a clean washcloth after feedings and at bedtime.
- Brush twice a day. As soon as the first tooth comes in, start brushing twice a day with a soft child sized toothbrush and water.
- Use fluoride toothpaste. For children two years of age and older, brush with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Speak to your child’s pediatrician or dentist about using fluoride toothpaste if your child is younger than 2.
- Help with brushing. Make sure to assist and supervise children until they can brush well on their own, at around age 7 or 8.
- Floss. Begin flossing when the teeth start to touch each other.
► Avoid sugary snacks and drinks
Sugary foods and drinks like cookies, candy, and soda can cause tooth decay.
- Avoid sugary snacks. Limit the number of snacks to three throughout the day. Offer healthy snacks that are low in sugar such as cheese, yogurt or fruit.
- Avoid sugary drinks. Give your child milk or water. Don’t give sugary drinks like soda, juice with added sugar, or flavored milk.
- Limit fruit juice. If you give your child fruit juice, give 100% juice with no added sugar, give no more than 4 to 6 ounces per day, and have your child drink it in one sitting.
► Avoid sipping on non-water drinks in bottles and sippy cups
Milk and formula have sugar too. The sugars in drinks other than water can cause tooth decay when they stay on the teeth for too long.
- Limit sipping. Limit sipping of drinks other than water from bottles or sippy cups, especially between meals.
- Don’t let your child sleep with a bottle or a sippy cup. Sleeping with a bottle or sippy cup with any drink other than water can cause tooth decay.
- Don’t use a bottle as a pacifier. Bottles should only be given when a baby is hungry or thirsty.
- Drink from a cup. Help your child drink from a regular cup by age one.
- Give your child tap water. The fluoride in New York City’s tap water helps prevent tooth decay.
► Don’t share utensils or bites of food
Babies are born without the germs that cause tooth decay. They get these germs from spit (saliva) that is passed from the mouths of adults to their own mouth. Some of the ways that saliva might be shared with a baby are by sharing a spoon or piece of food, or by cleaning off a pacifier with saliva instead of with water. As soon as these germs are in a child’s mouth, the process that causes tooth decay can start, even before the child has teeth.
- Don’t share saliva. To avoid spreading germs, don’t put a spoon or a piece of food from your mouth into your child’s mouth. Use water, not your mouth, to clean off a pacifier.
- Take care of your own teeth. Brush, floss, and visit the dentist regularly to reduce germs in your mouth.
► Visit the dentist
- Start seeing the dentist by age one. Children should see a dentist by their first birthday and visit a dentist every 6 months for dental health education prevention of cavities, and treatment of oral health problems.
- Ask about fluoride varnish. Speak to your child’s dentist or doctor about fluoride varnish, a coating that is painted on the teeth to prevent tooth decay.
- Ask about sealants. Speak to your child’s dentist about dental sealants, a thin plastic layer that is put on the chewing sides of the back (molar) teeth to protect them from tooth decay. Sealants are usually placed on the adult molar teeth, which come into the mouth at around ages 6 and 12.
Last Updated: February 19, 2013