According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), tooth decay is one of the most common and most ignored chronic diseases in children, and about one in five children ages 5-11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth. How much does this matter for baby teeth that are bound to come out anyway? Quite a bit, it turns out. Cavities can not only be painful for your child, but can cause dangerous infections and even affect speech development. CDC research has also demonstrated that kids with oral health issues are likely to miss more school and get lower grades than children with healthy mouths. Additionally, baby teeth serve the important role of holding space in the jaw for the adult teeth to grow. If a baby tooth comes out too soon, the permanent teeth underneath may move into that empty space and create alignment or crowding problems later as more adult teeth develop.

In short, oral health forms an important part of your child’s overall health and wellbeing at every stage of life. Keep reading for useful guidelines on caring for your children’s teeth throughout the phases of their early development.

Pre-Natal Care

Believe it or not, expecting moms with excessive oral bacteria can pass those bacteria to their baby while he or she is still in the womb, which can lead to early dental problems. This can easily be avoided by exercising a little extra care during pregnancy. Pregnant women are frequently at higher risk of gingivitis and bacterial buildup due to several factors including hormonal changes, morning sickness, changes in eating habits, and plain-old exhaustion. The bottom line: keep up with your dental visits during pregnancy, and maintain regular brushing and flossing habits. If you are prone to morning sickness, mix a teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of water and rinse your mouth after you throw up – this will help protect your tooth enamel from stomach acid and prevent bacterial buildup. 

Babies

A fact that may surprise you is that babies are actually born with teeth! Their teeth just haven’t come to the surface yet. You can protect nascent teeth by wiping your baby’s gums with a soft, damp cloth twice a day after their first and last feedings to remove bacteria.

Avoid letting your baby fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth – the sugars in milk, formula, and juice can erode enamel and lead to cavities.

When teeth start coming in, you can brush them twice a day with a soft-bristled brush and water or a rice-grain-sized amount of toothpaste. When the teeth start to touch each other it’s good to start flossing. If you know that people in your family are predisposed to cavities, you can also ask your dentist about getting a fluoride varnish treatment for your baby. The ADA (American Dental Association) recommends bringing your child to the dentist by their first birthday. If you can, bring your child to a pediatric dentist – they will not only be better equipped to provide proper treatment, their office will likely be geared towards making your kid’s first experiences at the dentist positive.

Toddlers

From ages 3-6, kids should brush with no more than a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Building strong habits when your child is little will benefit them for life, so do your best to make brushing fun! There are lots of playful toothbrushes on the market featuring well-known cartoon characters, lights, and music. Try singing a toothbrushing song to keep track of time – the recommended time to brush is two minutes. Figure out what works best to keep your little one engaged and reinforce their good behavior. Establishing routines such as the “Brush, Book, Bed” method can be a big help, too.

If you give your child gummy vitamins, make sure they are sugar free – sugary gummies stick to the teeth and can lead to cavities. 

Again, if tooth decay runs in the family, talk to your dentist about the possibility of getting a dental sealant treatment for your child.

Pre-Adolescents

Starting at about age six or seven, your child is probably ready to start brushing on their own and switch to a adult brushing routine – twice a day (after breakfast and before bed) with a normal-sized dollop of fluoride toothpaste, plus flossing at least once a day. Maintaining a healthy diet is always an important part of oral health, as well as visiting the dentist every 6-12 months. If your kid has a sweet tooth, encourage them to brush after having any sugary snacks.

Adolescents & Teens

Tooth misalignment, gingivitis, and dental erosion are a few of the problems that may arise during adolescence. Rebellious attitudes and an increase in risky behaviors can certainly make matters worse. The best thing you can do as a parent during this period is to make sure your child goes to regular dental checkups and limit their consumption of sugary and unhealthy foods when possible.

Drinking fluoridated water helps prevent tooth decay and is important for maintaining healthy teeth at all stages of life. Visit this interactive map provided by the CDC to make sure your tap water contains fluoride.


For working families there can be many obstacles that keep you and your children from getting regular care. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), about half of all American kids don’t have regular access to dental care because of social, economic, and geographic obstacles. Enrolling in a dental discount plan for your family can help alleviate some of these obstacles by providing:

  1. More Options, Less Travel Time
    A dental savings plan can make your trips to the dentist quicker and easier by allowing you to pick a single clinic that’s close by, or a practice with multiple locations in your area.
  2. Free Basics, Bundled Savings
    Most membersy plans give you and your children access to free exams and x-rays, and you’re only paying the full annual price for one person – dependents and other family members can be added on for as little as $10 and $30 extra respectively, depending on which plan you choose.

See what plans are available in your area and start saving now!