Dental Hygiene Tips for Young Kids

Setting your child up for optimal oral health at an early age benefits their total wellbeing in so many ways. In your child’s earliest years, great oral health habits help protect your child’s baby teeth (also known as primary teeth), which are essential for your child’s health, development, and self-esteem.

Baby teeth help your child learn to properly chew, eat, and speak. Your child’s front teeth enable them to bite into their food and learn how to articulate sounds correctly, while their back teeth make it possible for them to chew effectively. Your child’s baby teeth are also the placeholders that guide the alignment of their permanent (adult) teeth and bite. So even though baby teeth will eventually be replaced by adult teeth, your child’s immediate and long-term wellbeing will benefit if their baby teeth are protected from the consequences of premature tooth loss from tooth decay.

Untreated tooth decay is an uncomfortable experience for your child and has been associated with increased social difficulties and low academic achievement. And when baby teeth are lost prematurely to tooth decay, your child may be more likely to have a misaligned smile or an articulation disorder, which can strain their self-confidence and require more extensive orthodontic treatment, speech therapy, or both.

The good news? Tooth decay is largely preventable through simple lifestyle habits. Here are 6 practical ways you can help your child prevent tooth decay and set the foundation for a lifetime of great oral health.

1. Avoid saliva transmission.

Another person’s saliva—even a parent’s—can expose your child to the acid-producing oral bacteria that causes cavities. Instead of sharing utensils or rinsing a dropped pacifier with your mouth, always provide your child with unused utensils and only rinse their toys and pacifiers with clean running water.

2. Prevent baby bottle tooth decay.

“Baby bottle tooth decay” refers to early childhood tooth decay in infants and toddlers. As the name implies, baby bottle tooth decay usually results from exposure to the sweetened liquids a baby or toddler may drink from their bottle, such as breast milk, formula, juice, soft drinks, milk, or sweetened water. Baby bottle tooth decay can also result from dipping a child’s pacifier into something sweet, such as juice or sugar. Though it can affect any teeth, baby bottle tooth decay most commonly impacts the front teeth of the upper jaw.

The risk of baby bottle tooth decay increases when sweetened liquids are used as a naptime or bedtime drink, as salivation slows during sleep. Without saliva or brushing to remove sweetened liquids from your child’s teeth, oral bacteria have a longer amount of time to feed on leftover sugars in and around your child’s teeth. As oral bacteria feed, they produce an acid byproduct that weakens tooth enamel and ultimately causes cavities.

You can help your child prevent baby bottle tooth decay by wiping your baby’s gums with a clean cloth after each feeding, providing water at naptime and bedtime, reducing sugar between meals, brushing and flossing your child’s teeth daily, and visiting your pediatric dentist for preventative care at least twice annually.

3. Switch out sippy cups.

Because they’re often leak-proof, sippy cups are a favorite tool amongst parents (and we can’t blame you!). Yet when combined with a sweetened liquid, this same leak-proof technology may be to blame for elevating your child’s risk for tooth decay. Sippy cups only allow your child to draw up small amounts of liquid, which means they take more time to finish their drink. Continually sipping on a sweetened liquid increases the amount of time oral bacteria has to feed on leftover sugars and produce the acid byproduct that leads to tooth decay.

Sippy cups are an excellent tool for transitioning away from a bottle and aren’t innately harmful, though they’re best discontinued once your child has the motor control to use an adult-sized cup (around one year of age). If your child is still using a sippy cup, you can help protect their teeth by removing the cup once your child is finished drinking to prevent prolonged sipping, and providing water instead of sugary drinks (especially at naptime and bedtime).  

4. Introduce nutritious foods early.

One of the best ways to support your child’s oral and overall health is to be particular about their food, snacks, and drinks. Candy, cookies, cakes, chips, white bread, sodas, juices, sports drinks, and even some fruits can “stick” to your child’s teeth, prolonging exposure to the sugars, starches, and acids that promote cavity formation.

Introducing your child to nutrient-dense foods and snacks at a young age can help them develop healthy habits and support their total wellbeing for life. Many of the same foods that support your child’s overall health, growth, and development—such as vegetables, dairy, nuts, and whole grains—also promote good oral health. Some nutrient-dense foods even provide your child’s teeth with extra oral health benefits. Crunchy produce (like carrots, cucumbers, and celery) increases salivation and “brush” your teeth, while cheese, plain yogurt, and unflavored nuts are rich in enamel-supporting calcium and phosphorous.

5. Serve more water.

Drinking plain water helps prevent tooth decay by increasing saliva production and washing away leftover sugars, acids, and starches from the surface of your child’s teeth. As an added bonus, good hydration also supports your child’s overall physical and mental health and development.

If your child is used to sugary beverages, you can help them transition to drinking more water by gradually diluting their milk, soda, juice, or sports drink with more and more water. And if you still want to offer a sweetened drink as an occasional treat, give it to your child with their meal, when salivation is at its peak.

6. Visit your child’s pediatric dentist at least twice a year.

Like twice-daily brushing and healthful eating, visiting your child’s pediatric dentist at least twice annually is one of the best habits to develop when it comes to preventing cavities. In addition to detecting oral health issues early and keeping little teeth clean, your child’s pediatric dentist also provides effective preventive dental care for kids, such as professional fluoride treatments. And if you’re having difficulties at home with regular brushing and flossing, visiting your pediatric dentist more than twice annually can help you ensure your child’s teeth are getting the complete care they need to stay strong and healthy.

Pediatric and Adolescent Dentistry at Brocks Gap Dental Group is here to set your child up for optimal oral health at every age. For personalized dental care and recommendations on how to help your child achieve a healthy smile for life, contact our office to schedule an appointment today.