Oral Health: Children

Tooth decay, or cavities, is the most common dental problem among children, yet it is preventable. Tooth decay can begin as soon as a baby’s first tooth comes in.

Nationally, more than half of children ages 6 to 19 have experienced tooth decay. In NYC, more than one in three third-grade students have untreated tooth decay.

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 the teeth.

If left untreated, tooth decay can cause a variety of health problems, including:

  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Difficulty eating and speaking
  • Reduced self-esteem

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.

  • Use fluoride toothpaste. For children younger than three, use a smear of fluoride toothpase, the size of a grain of rice. For children ages three to six, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.

  • Help with brushing. Make sure to supervise children and help them brush until they can brush well on their own, at around age seven or eight.

  • Floss. Begin flossing when the teeth start to touch each other.

Avoid Sugary Snacks and Drinks

Sugary foods and drinks, such as cookies, candy and soda can cause tooth decay.

  • Avoid sugary snacks. Limit the number of snacks to three a day. Offer healthy snacks that are low in sugar, such as cheese, yogurt and fruit.

  • Avoid sugary drinks. Give your child milk or water, instead of sugary drinks such as soda, juice with added sugar or flavored milk.

  • Limit fruit juice. If you give your child fruit juice, make sure it is 100% juice with no added sugar. Give your child no more than six ounces of juice per day, and have your child drink it in one sitting.

Avoid Sipping of 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.

  • Do not let your child sleep with a bottle or a sippy cup. Sleeping with a bottle or sippy cup filled with with any drink other than water can cause tooth decay.

  • Do not 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.

Do Not Share Utensils or Bites of Food

Babies are born without the germs that cause tooth decay. They get these germs from saliva that is passed from the mouths of adults to their 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 water. As soon as germs are in a child’s mouth, the process that causes tooth decay can start, even before the child has teeth.

  • Do not share saliva. To avoid spreading germs, do not 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

Tips for Teaching Children How to Brush Their Teeth

When teaching children how to brush their teeth, here are a few steps to show them proper toothbrushing techniques:

  • Place the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle to the gums.
  • Gently brush back and forth in short strokes.
  • Make sure to brush all three surfaces of the teeth: inner, outer, and chewing surfaces.

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