Oral Health Information for Parents

A child's primary teeth, sometimes called “baby teeth,” are just as important as his or her permanent adult teeth. Primary teeth typically begin to appear when a baby is six months to one year old. Primary teeth help children chew and speak. They also hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are growing under the gums.

Early Childhood Tooth Decay

Early childhood tooth decay is a common dental problem. It can happen when your child drinks a lot of sugary liquids. Many drinks you give your child contain sugar. This includes soda, malta, juice, punch, and even milk and formula. When your child has a sippy cup or bottle in his/her mouth for long periods of time, the sugar from the drink stays on her teeth. The sugar can harm her teeth and cause cavities to form.

If not treated early, tooth decay can cause serious health problems, including pain and infection, that interfere with your child's ability to eat, sleep, speak, interact with friends, and concentrate and learn in school. It can also cost a lot of money to fix. The good news is that early childhood tooth decay can be prevented!

What You Should Do to Keep Your Child's Teeth Healthy

You can take steps as your child grows to protect her teeth and prevent early childhood tooth decay.

For babies and toddlers

Good nutrition and proper feeding are very important for building healthy teeth during your baby's first year. To keep your baby's teeth healthy as he/she grows:

  • Consider breastfeeding your baby. Breastfeeding gives your baby the best nutrition. Breastmilk is also less likely to cause tooth decay than formula. more
  • Use bottles and sippy cups wisely to keep sugar from staying on your baby's teeth. A sippy cup is any cup that has a lid and helps prevent your child from spilling her drink. This includes cups with built-in straws.
    • Bottles+
    • Sippy cups+
  • Clean your baby's teeth and gums after each feeding. more
  • Do not share utensils, taste food, or clean your baby's pacifier with your mouth. You can pass germs in your mouth to your baby.
  • Have a dentist examine your child within 6 months after the first tooth comes in and no later than the first birthday. The dentist will check for tooth decay and other problems, and will show you how to clean your child's teeth properly.
  • Take your child to the dentist at least once a year, or more if suggested by the dentist.
  • Talk to your child's doctor or dentist about making sure your child is getting enough fluoride each day.
  • Give your child healthy snacks, such as cheese, yogurt, vegetables, and fruit. Limit the amount of sweet and sticky snacks you give, such as cookies, candy, fruit roll-ups, dried fruit, and cakes. more
  • Limit the number of sugary drinks your child has each day, such as flavored milk, soda, malta, punch, and juice. more

For children and teens

  • Teach your child about good oral hygiene. more
  • Take your child to the dentist twice a year for cleanings and exams.
  • Talk to your child's dentist about whether dental sealants are a good choice for your child.
  • Encourage and demonstrate healthy eating and avoiding sugary foods and drinks. Help your child choose healthy snacks and drinks when he is busy and eating on the run. more
  • Help your child or teen make smart choices and avoid cigarettes and chew tobacco. more
  • Prevent injuries to your child's mouth and face at home, in the car, on the playground, and on the sports field. more