8 Ways to Protect Your Child's Teeth

Medically Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on October 07, 2019

You can keep your child from getting tooth decay by starting their dental care early. Follow these steps to prevent cavities and keep their beautiful smile healthy.

No. 1. Get a Checkup

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

No. 2. Teach Good Habits

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

When your baby's teeth appear, brush twice a day with an infant toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste.

Start flossing when two of their teeth touch each other. Ask your dentist about techniques and schedules.

Brush and floss just before bedtime. After that, don't give your child any food or drink, except water, until the next morning.

Your dentist can suggest when your child should start using mouthwash. You'll need to wait until they know how to spit it out.

No. 3. 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 their teeth, feeding bacteria that can cause tooth decay.

If you must give your child a bottle to take to bed, make sure it contains only water.

No. 4. Cut Back on Juice

Many parents think juice is a healthy daylong choice for a drink, but it can lead to tooth decay.

Limit your child to no more than 4 ounces a day of 100% fruit juice. Give non-sugary drinks and foods at mealtimes, and use juice only as a treat.

No. 5. Control the Sippy Cup

A sippy cup can help kids move from a bottle to a glass, but don't let them drink from it all day long. Using it too much can lead to decay on the back of the front teeth if the drinks are sugary.

No. 6. Ditch the Pacifier by Age 2 or 3

There are lots of good reasons to let your child use a pacifier, but in the long term it can affect how their teeth line up. It can also change the shape of the mouth.

Talk to your doctor if they are still using a pacifier past age 3.

No. 7. Watch Out for Sweet Medicine

Children's medications can be flavored and sugary. If they stick on the teeth, the chance of cavities goes up. Children on medications for chronic conditions such as asthma and heart problems often have a higher decay rate.

Antibiotics and some asthma medications can cause an overgrowth of candida (yeast), which can lead to a fungal infection called oral thrush. Signs are creamy, curd-like patches on the tongue or inside the mouth.

Talk to your dentist about how often to brush if your child is taking long-term medications. It could be as often as four times a day.

No. 8. Stand Firm on Brushing, Flossing, and Rinsing

If your kid puts up a fuss when it comes time to brush, floss, and rinse, don't let them off the hook. Make it clear they don't have a choice.

Some tips to coax your reluctant child to brush on their own or get your little one to let you help:

Be patient. Kids can start brushing their teeth with help from a grownup around 2 or 3. But they may not be ready to go it alone until about age 6. And it can take until around age 10 until children perfect their flossing skills.


Don't wait until late in the day. If your child is tired, you may not get much cooperation with brushing, flossing, and rinsing. So start before it's too close to bedtime.

Let your child choose toothpaste. Kids 5 or older can pick their own from options you approve.

Motivate. A younger child may gladly brush for a sticker, for instance, or gold stars on a chart. Or make it a group activity. Kids might be more likely to join in if they see the grownups brushing.

WebMD Medical Reference



Beverly Largent, DMD, Paducah, KY; past president, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Mary Hayes, DDS, pediatric dentist, Chicago; spokeswoman, American Dental Association.

American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry: "Dental Home Online Resource Center,"  "CDC Report Highlights Importance of Pediatric Dental Visits," "Dental Care for Your Baby."

CDC: "Preventing Dental Caries with Community Programs," "Children's Oral Health."

Children's Dental Health Project: "Cost Effectiveness of Preventive Dental Services."

American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Pediatric Dentistry. Pediatrics, May 1, 2003.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Pediatric Dentistry and Oral Health. Pediatrics, Dec. 1, 2008.

American Dental Association: "Common Mouth Sores," "Good Oral Health Practices Should Begin in Infancy." "Thrush and Other Yeast Infections in Children."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "What is the best way to take care of a young child's teeth?"

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