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An oral health guide for your growing child

Every stage in a child's life comes with different dental needs and responsibilities. Do your part to make sure your child’s oral health care is on track from the start.

Start dental visits during infancy

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends bringing your child to the dentist before his or her first birthday. During this initial visit, the dentist will:

  • Check your child's teeth for decay and signs of early developmental problems
  • Explain how to care for your child's teeth
  • Answer your questions and address your concerns

After this visit, your child should see a dentist every six months. To help your child develop a positive attitude about the dentist, you can:

  • Take your child with you when you have a checkup to let him or her get familiar with the office and its staff
  • Avoid using negative words such as "needle" and "hurt"
  • "Play dentist" to familiarize your child with what happens during a visit
  • Ask your dentist for advice on explaining procedures to children
  • Answer your child's questions honestly and sensitively

Caring for an infant's teeth

You can start cleaning your child's teeth when the first tooth is visible because teeth are susceptible to decay as soon as they emerge.

Wipe your baby's teeth and gums clean after every feeding with a soft, damp washcloth or gauze pad. This can prevent a condition, baby bottle tooth decay, that occurs when an infant drinks from a nursing bottle containing milk, formula or fruit juice during nap time or at night and falls asleep with the bottle in his or her mouth. The sugars and acids in these liquids that pool around the teeth can cause discoloration and decay.

Since breast milk contains sugar, decay also can occur when a baby falls asleep while breastfeeding. To prevent damage, clean your child's teeth after each feeding and, if necessary, provide a bottle filled only with water at bedtime or during a nap.

Eating and drinking habits for healthy teeth

Studies have shown that children who drink fluoridated water from birth have up to 65% fewer cavities, and by the time they become teenagers, many of them still have no tooth decay.

If you live in a community without a fluoridated water supply (confirm by calling the local water company or health department), you can make sure your kids get their fluoride by using tablets, drops or gel and by having topical fluoride treatments applied at the dental office. Using a fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinse is also effective.

Make sure your child has a balanced diet for maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Especially important is calcium, which helps build strong teeth. Milk, cheese and yogurt are good sources of calcium. Research shows that eating cheese after meals seems to inhibit the effects of decay-causing acids. Your child should avoid or limit eating snacks containing sugar or starch.

By age 3

Children should be brushing their own teeth under adult supervision, and only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste is needed. Start flossing your child's teeth daily when all the primary teeth are in or when teeth touch each other.

By age 8

Children should be able to brush and floss by themselves, with occasional checks. Turn brushing and flossing into a daily routine and make it fun by giving your child a colorful toothbrush and bubble gum-flavored floss.

With guidance and proper personal and professional care, your children have a good foundation for maintaining healthy teeth throughout their lives.

Last updated July 21, 2021

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.