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5 Ways to Protect Against Childhood Cavities

Tooth decay is the most prevalent chronic disease in children and adults, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. This condition, which leads to cavities, is also largely preventable. Tooth decay, also known as dental caries, occurs when bacteria known as plaque forms in the mouth. Plaque creates acids that eat away at the tooth’s enamel, forming cavities.

Plaque forms naturally and from the food and drink we consume. However, we can prevent it from building up and creating cavities. Here are five top ways to combat plaque buildup and tooth decay to keep your kids’ mouths cavity-free:

1. Brush twice a day

Kids should brush for at least two minutes, twice a day using a toothbrush with soft bristles. It should be replaced every three to four months and more frequently if the child has been sick or worn down the head.

Kids may be resistant to brushing or wish to brush on their own. There are many ways to educate kids on the importance of brushing and make it fun, including oral health apps and video clips such as those at Kids’ Healthy Mouths website Parents should typically brush their children’s teeth until 8 years old. If your child wants to try brushing his or herself, you may consider taking turns or going over them again after he or she tries it.

Remember: Even infants need their mouths cleaned. Parents and caretakers can use a moist washcloth or gauze to wipe down the tongue and gums. Once baby teeth come in, an infant toothbrush will suffice; the bristles should be moistened with water. Toothpaste should not be used until a child is two years old, according to the American Dental Association. Click here to learn more about brushing baby teeth.

2. Floss daily

Once your child has two teeth that touch, it’s time to start flossing. This typically occurs between ages two and six, according to, which also states that children often develop the dexterity to floss on their own around age 10.

If the standard 18-inch string of floss wrapped around the finger doesn’t work well for flossing your child’s teeth, consider using a floss holder. Visit the American Dental Association’s website for more information about proper flossing technique.

3. See the dentist

Kids should start seeing a dentist within six months of their first tooth and no later than their first birthday, per the ADA’s recommendation. You can coordinate frequency of care with your child’s dentist; however, a professional cleaning and exam every six months is recommended by the ADA, American Academy of Pediatrics and other professional organizations.

Depending on a child’s age and specific oral care needs, a routine dentist visit typically includes an exam, cleaning and fluoride treatment. X-rays may be required at certain intervals. These visits are a good time to have your child’s dentist teach him or her about the importance of brushing and flossing, bring up any questions or concerns you have, and discuss sealants.

4. Use fluoride

Fluoride has been shown to reduce tooth decay by as much as 50 to 70 percent.1 This naturally occurring mineral helps harden tooth enamel, which makes teeth more resilient to decay. The ADA and other oral health groups recommend the use of fluoride toothpaste for children age 2 and older. Use a pea-size amount and be sure it isn’t swallowed.

Fluoride is in most municipal drinking water, and may preventive care dentist visits include fluoride treatments. If you have concerns about whether or not your child gets enough fluoride, consult with his or her dentist. He or she may recommend additional treatments or supplements.

5. Eat right

People of all ages should eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes food and drink containing minimal amounts of added sugar. Sugars build up in hard-to-reach-places such as the teeth’s crevices and in between them. There, they build up and create plaque, which as stated above, forms enamel-eating acids that attack the teeth for 20 minutes or more after eating.2

Crunchy fruits and veggies such as celery and apples help clean tooth surfaces and prevent plaque buildup. Calcium-filled dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt promote strong, healthy teeth and bones. Click here to learn more about eating right for oral health.

1 Milgrom, P., and S. Reisine. "Oral Health in the United States: The Post-Fluoride Generation." Annual Review of Public Health 21.1 (2000): 403-36. PubMed. Web. 1 Nov. 2013.

2 "Diet and Tooth Decay." The Journal of the American Dental Association 133 (2002): 527. American Dental Association. Web. 1 Nov. 2013.

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