Children's Oral Health

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. In New York City, more than one out of 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


  • 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.


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 like 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.


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.
  • Don’t 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.
  • Don’t 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.


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.

  • Don’t share saliva. To avoid spreading germs, don’t 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.



  • Start seeing the dentist by age one. Children should see a dentist by their first birthday. They should then visit a dentist every six months to prevent cavities and treat oral health problems.
  • Speak to your child’s dentist or doctor about fluoride varnish. Fluoride varnish is a coating that is painted on the teeth to prevent tooth decay.
    Frequently Asked Questions About Fluoride Varnish Other languages: [عربي] [বাংলা]
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  • Ask about sealants. Speak to your child’s dentist about dental sealants, a thin white coating that is put on the chewing sides of the back teeth to protect them from tooth decay. Sealants are usually placed on the adult molar teeth, which come into the mouth at around ages six and 12.


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