Dental caries (tooth decay) is among the most common chronic childhood diseases in the United States. The good news is there are ways to prevent it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, observing that February is National Children's Dental Health Month, offers 10 top tips on preventing tooth decay.
“Even the tiniest teeth can decay,” said David M. Krol, MD, MPH, FAAP. “There are habits you can start now to keep your baby's teeth healthy. And when that first tooth shows up, there are ways your pediatrician can keep it healthy, too.”
Top 10 Tips
- See your child's dentist by their first birthday or within six months of their first tooth.
- Even before your infant's first teeth break through, it is important to get into a healthy routine. Wipe the gums with a clean, damp washcloth or gauze pad after each feeding.
- As soon as your baby's first tooth erupts, it's time to start using fluoride toothpaste. Here's how to do it: Use a tiny smear—the size of a grain of rice—until age 3. Clean the teeth at least twice a day. It's best to clean them right after breakfast and before bedtime. Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste when your child is 3 years old. Teach your child to spit without rinsing.
- Fluoride is a safe and useful cavity-fighting ingredient and natural mineral that has been added to drinking water since 1945. If your community water supply does not have fluoride or you live on a private well, ask your doctor if you should get a prescription for fluoride drops or chewable tablets for your child.
- Assist or supervise kids during toothbrushing until they master the task, usually at around 10 years of age.
- Do not put your baby to bed with a bottle at night or at naptime. It is also not a good idea to let your baby use a bottle filled with a sweet drink or dip your baby's pacifier in anything sweet like sugar or honey.
- When your baby is 6 months, your pediatrician will start to do oral health checkups and apply fluoride varnish. Pediatricians are trained to apply fluoride varnish because many young children do not see or have access to a dentist until they are older. All infants and children should have fluoride varnish every 6 months until age 5. Children might need it every 3 months if they have a higher risk of dental decay.
- Fluoride varnish is a "preventive care service" for children. This means that all public and private health insurance plans should cover fluoride varnish. No part of the cost should be shared by patients or families.
- Introduce a cup around your child's first birthday. Teaching young ones to drink from a cup can help prevent tooth decay. Plan to begin moving your child from the breast or bottle to a lidded cup around 12 months.
- Skip the sugary drinks. Fruit juice, soda and sweetened drinks aren't good for your little one's teeth. In fact, the AAP does not recommend juice for babies under 12 months. After that, limit juices to 4 ounces per day and mix them with water (half-water, half-juice is best).
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.