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Take Care of Your Child’s Teeth

father and daughter brushing their teeth

Content last updated on:
February 21, 2014

The Basics

Your child’s first teeth (baby teeth) are important. Baby teeth hold space for adult teeth. Take care of your child’s teeth to protect your child from tooth decay (cavities).

Tooth decay can:

  • Cause your child pain
  • Make it hard for your child to chew
  • Make your child embarrassed to talk or smile
  • Create problems for your child’s adult teeth

Take simple steps to prevent tooth decay.
Most babies will get their first tooth between ages 4 months and 7 months. Start good tooth care habits now so your child’s smile will last!

  • Start cleaning your child’s teeth as soon as they come in.
  • Teach your child to brush 2 times a day.
  • Protect your child’s teeth with fluoride (“FLOOR-ide”).
  • Give your child healthy, low-sugar foods and drinks.
  • Take your child to the dentist for regular checkups.

Learn more about how to keep your baby’s mouth and teeth healthy.

Is my child at risk for tooth decay?
Tooth decay is one of the most common childhood diseases. More than 1 in 3 kids have had decay in their baby teeth.

Bacteria in the mouth use the sugar in food to cause tooth decay. Eating and drinking lots of sugary foods and drinks puts your child at risk for tooth decay. Good tooth care can prevent tooth decay.

Take Action!

Take Action!

These steps will help you take good care of your child’s teeth.

Start with the first tooth.
As soon as your baby’s teeth come in, clean them regularly with a clean cloth or a soft children’s toothbrush. Clean them after feeding, especially right before bedtime.

Teach your child to brush 2 times a day.
Around age 4 or 5, kids can start to brush their own teeth. Watch to make sure your kids brush all their teeth and use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Remind your kids not to swallow the toothpaste.

It’s a good idea to watch your kids brush their teeth until they are age 7 or 8. They may still need you to remind them how to brush carefully and correctly.

Make it fun.
Getting kids to brush their teeth can be hard. Here are some ideas that may help.

  • Let your child choose a toothbrush in a favorite color or with a character from a TV show or movie. Just make sure it’s the right size for your child’s mouth.
  • Make a checklist and have your child add a sticker after each brushing.

Protect your child’s teeth with fluoride.
Fluoride is a mineral that helps protect teeth from decay. Here are some ways to make sure your child gets the right amount of fluoride.

  • Fluoride is added to the drinking water in many towns and cities. Check with your child’s doctor or your local water company to find out if your tap water has fluoride in it.
  • Give your child tap water instead of bottled water to drink. Most bottled water doesn’t have enough fluoride in it to protect your child’s teeth from decay.
  • If your water doesn’t have fluoride in it, a doctor or dentist can give your child fluoride in other ways, like drops or tablets.
  • Start brushing your child’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste at age 2 (or sooner if a dentist or doctor suggests it). Use just a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. If young children swallow too much fluoride, their adult teeth may have white spots.

Ask your doctor or dentist if your child is getting enough fluoride.

What about cost?
Fluoride treatment for kids who don’t have fluoride in their water is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, your child may be able to get fluoride treatment at no cost to you.

Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services for children that are covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

Ask your child’s dentist about sealants.
A sealant is a thin, plastic material put on the tops of back teeth. Like fluoride, sealants help protect teeth from decay. Ask your dentist about whether sealants are right for your child.

Get more information about sealants [PDF - 383 KB].

Give your child healthy foods and drinks.
Make sure your child gets enough calcium, a mineral that helps make teeth strong. Milk, cheese, and yogurt are good sources of calcium.

Milk also has sugar in it, which can harm your child’s teeth if it stays on them for too long. When you give your kids milk to drink, serve it to them with a meal.

Offer your kids water between meals.
Give your kids tap water instead of other drinks between meals. Other drinks – including juice, formula, and milk – can have sugar in them. If sugar stays on your child’s teeth for too long, it can lead to tooth decay.

Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle.
Milk or formula will stay on your child’s teeth all night and increase your child’s risk for tooth decay.

Take your child to the dentist.
Take your child to the dentist for a checkup by age 1. Ask your child’s doctor for the name of a dentist who is good with kids.

Going to the dentist for the first time can be scary. It might help your child to see you sitting in the dentist’s chair first. You can also ask the dentist to let your child sit in your lap during the checkup.

Talk to your child’s dentist about how to clean your child’s teeth and other ways to keep your child’s mouth healthy. After the first visit, make sure to schedule regular dental checkups for your child.

What about cost?
Your insurance plan may cover dental care for your child. If you don’t have insurance, find a low-cost dental care program near you.

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