Skip to content
This content is selected and controlled by WebMD's editorial staff and is brought to you by LISTERINE®.

When should you start brushing your kid's teeth? As soon as they appear. Start cleaning out a baby’s mouth even before any teeth appear using a wet washcloth. Tooth decay -- although largely preventable with good care -- is one of the most common chronic diseases of children and teens ages 6 to 19. By kindergarten, more than 40% of kids have cavities.

Neglecting baby teeth isn't the only misstep parents can make. Here’s an 8-step game plan for good oral health.

Start Early

Your child should see a dentist by his first birthday. Early preventive care saves money in the long run. A CDC report found that dental care costs were nearly 40% lower over a 5-year period for children who saw a dentist by age 5.

Teach Good Habits

Brushing is crucial from the get-go. Even before your baby has teeth, you can gently brush her gums. Use water on a baby toothbrush, or clean them with a soft washcloth.

 "A lot of people think they don't have to brush baby teeth," says Beverly Largent, a Paducah, KY, dentist and past president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. "If there's just one tooth, you can use gauze."

When teeth appear, brush twice daily with an infant toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste. Start flossing when two teeth touch each other. Ask your dentist about techniques and schedules, Largent says.

Brush and floss just before bedtime. No food or drink, except water, until the next morning. 

Your dentist can recommend when to start using mouthwash. "I advise parents to wait until the child can definitely spit the mouthwash out," says Mary Hayes, a pediatric dentist in Chicago. "Mouthwash is a rinse and not a beverage."

Avoid 'Baby Bottle Decay'

Don't put your infant or older child down for a nap with a bottle of juice, formula, or milk. Sugary liquids cling to baby's teeth, feeding bacteria that can trigger tooth decay. If you must give your child a bottle to take to bed, make sure it contains only water.

Skip the Juice

Many parents think juice is a healthy daylong choice for a beverage, but that's not the case. It has been linked to childhood obesity and tooth decay.

Limit kids to no more than 4 ounces a day of 100% fruit juice, and restrict sugary drinks and foods to mealtimes. Use juice as a treat, Hayes says.

Previous Slide Next Slide

From Our Sponsor

Content under this heading is from or created on behalf of the named sponsor. This content is not subject to the WebMD Editorial Policy and is not reviewed by the WebMD Editorial department for accuracy, objectivity or balance.

  • Healthy Mouth

    Follow these simple steps for basic oral health.

  • Beautiful Smile

    From braces to whitening, get pointers on how to look your best.

  • Kids' Teeth

    How to help your little ones take care of their teeth.

  • Expert Answers

    Advice from dentists on everything from bad breath to fillings.