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Preventing Tooth Decay in Young Children - Topic Overview

Tooth decay, called dental caries, is caused by bacteria eating away the outer protective layer (enamel) of a tooth. Help prevent tooth decay in young children by adopting the following healthy habits:

  • Teach your child to brush and floss every day. Clean your baby's gums with a soft cloth or gauze pad to remove plaque before the first teeth come in. When your child's first teeth come in, clean his or her teeth with a soft toothbrush. And use a very small amount (a smear) of fluoride toothpaste. When your child is age 2 years, it's okay to start using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Start flossing your child's teeth when he or she has teeth that touch each other. For more information, see the topic Brushing and Flossing a Child's Teeth.
  • Take good care of your own teeth and gums.Saliva contains bacteria that cause tooth decay. Keep your own teeth and mouth healthy so you are less likely to transfer these bacteria to your baby. Avoid sharing spoons and other utensils with your baby. Also, don't "clean" your baby's pacifier with your mouth.
  • Prevent prolonged contact with sugars in formula and breast milk. Remove a bottle from your baby's mouth before he or she falls asleep. This practice helps prevent mouth bacteria from producing acids that cause baby bottle tooth decay camera.gif. Also, clean your baby's teeth after feeding, especially at night.
  • Be smart about juice. Juice is not part of a healthy diet. Compared to a piece of fruit, fruit juice doesn't have the valuable fiber, it usually has more calories, and it is absorbed differently. Unless the label says that a fruit drink is 100% juice, beware that many fruit drinks are just water, a little juice flavoring, and a lot of added sugar. If you must give juice, water it down. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises no more than 4 fl oz (120 mL) to 6 fl oz (180 mL) of 100% fruit juice a day for children 1 to 6 years old.1 This means ½ cup to ¾ cup.
  • Introduce cups for drinking beverages at age 12 months or earlier. By this age, frequent bottle-feedings, especially with juice or other high-sugar liquids, make a child more likely to develop tooth decay. If you are having trouble weaning your baby from a bottle, dilute the liquid with water to make it less tasty. At night, you could fill the bottle with plain water. During the day, offer an empty cup for your child to play with. For more information, see the topic Weaning.
  • Provide your older baby or toddler with healthy foods. Give your child nutritious foods camera.gif, and combine them in ways that help reduce the risk for tooth decay. For example, offer meals that include whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Mozzarella and other cheeses, yogurt, and milk are good for teeth and make great after-meal snacks. They help clear the mouth of harmful sugars and protect against plaque. Make an effort to rinse or brush your child's teeth after he or she eats high-sugar foods, especially sticky, sweet foods like raisins.

Normal amounts of fluoride added to public water supplies and bottled water are safe for children and adults. If your child needs extra fluoride, your dentist may recommend a supplement or a gel or varnish that he or she would apply to your child's teeth. Use supplements only as directed. And keep them out of reach of your child. Too much fluoride can be toxic and can stain a child's teeth.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: January 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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    Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

    You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

    You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

    Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

    SOURCES:

    American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

    This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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