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Caring for Your Child's Teeth

It's never too early for good dental care. With good oral health care, your child can grow up cavity-free. Start by caring for your baby's teeth. As he or she grows, teach your child the best possible tooth care. Don't forget that healthy teeth and gums require regular visits to the dentist.

Mother cleaning babies mouth with swab.


Food and bacteria form a sticky substance called plaque on teeth. Bacteria in the plaque make acid that eats away the tooth's enamel (hard coating). This causes tooth decay.  Begin cleaning your baby's gums and mouth as early as possible. At first, use water and a piece of cotton gauze or a soft toothbrush. When your baby gets his or her first tooth, use a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice. When your child is about 3, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. When the child is old enough to brush on his or her own, watch to be sure it's done right.


Flossing removes bacteria and plaque from between the teeth and under the gums. Floss your child's teeth daily. When the child is old enough, a floss holder can help him or her floss.


Fluoride makes tooth enamel stronger. This helps prevent cavities. Find out if your community's water has fluoride added to it. If not, ask your child's provider or dentist  about fluoride supplements. Your child's provider or dentist may also apply fluoride varnish to your child's adult teeth. This may be done every 3 to 6 months.


Sealants are a safe, painless, and low-cost way to help protect your child's back teeth from decay. A thin plastic coating is bonded to the chewing surfaces of the molars and premolars. The sealant forms a hard shield that keeps food and bacteria from getting into the tiny grooves on the surface of the teeth.

Problems to watch for

  • Tooth decay. Never let your child sleep with a bottle. Bottle liquids (even milk) that sit in the mouth can quickly cause tooth decay. Don't let your child drink or snack without brushing afterward.

  • Thumb sucking and pacifiers. Sucking on a thumb or pacifier is common for a baby. But if either habit continues past age 3 or 4, it may lead to tooth or jaw problems. If using a pacifier, an orthopedic pacifier is best for the teeth and jaws.

When to call the dentist

  • Starting around age 1, your child should have regular dental check ups every 6 months.

  • Talk to your dentist if baby or adult teeth are crooked or fail to come in.

  • Call the dentist if you notice brown or black spots on your child's teeth.

  • If an adult tooth is loose, call your dentist. If a tooth is knocked out, get emergency dental care. Don't wash the tooth. Put it in milk until it can be put back in place.


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