Brush brush brush … let’s keep those teeth healthy!

Quick, what’s the most common chronic disease for children in the US? Did you say tooth decay?  You’re right! By age 5 about 60% of children will be affected by tooth decay (think cavities).  What causes the decay?  Bacteria and food.  When you eat, bacteria that live in your mouth eat the sugar in the food and produce acid.  With time this acid eats away at the protective coating of teeth, the enamel, creating holes – in other words, making cavities.

So what can you do to help keep your child’s teeth healthy?  Most parents know that brushing teeth twice a day is important.  Pediatric dentists recommend brushing for 2 minutes in the morning and evening using a toothbrush and a pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.  Most parents also know it’s important to take children to see the dentist every 6 months for regular check ups.  But there is a lot more to know about keeping your child’s teeth healthy!

Here’s what you can do to keep those pearly whites, well, pearly white:

  • Put those snack cups away! Don’t let your child snack all day.  Teeth need time to heal between meals.  When you’re not eating – the saliva in your mouth helps get rid of the acid and helps repair damage to the enamel. Plus – limiting snacking means you’ll have a hungry child at mealtimes.
  • If your child needs a snack – sit down, have a healthy snack and be done. Fruits and veggies make great snacks!
  • Sugar is bad for teeth – we all know this. But, did you know it’s not the amount of sugar in the food or drink that causes damage to teeth, it’s the number of times you have sugar? It’s ok to have a sugary treat – but how about just once a day and preferably with a meal.  
  • Your child doesn’t need to drink juice.  Milk and water are best.  Sugary drinks like juice, sports drinks, soda, etc. should be special occasion drinks.  If your child has one – have it with a meal and be done.  Sipping on juice, even water with a splash of juice, throughout the day bathes the teeth in sugar.  Water is great for sipping!
  • Never put a child to bed with formula, milk or juice in a sippy cup or bottle.  If they need a drink overnight – give them some water.
  • Stay away from or limit sticky candy, sugar gum, dried fruit, fruit snacks (fruit roll ups, chews, etc.), gummy vitamins, etc. These leave sticky sugar on teeth for hours and the bacteria will have a field day!  If your child eats one of these, brush or have them brush their teeth afterwards.  
  • Good oral health begins before your child is born.  Why?  Mothers can pass the bacteria in their mouth onto their newborn infant. If a mom’s oral health isn’t great then she is likely to pass on more aggressive and damaging bacteria to her child putting them at risk for future cavities. Expectant moms should brush, floss, eat a healthy diet and get regularly scheduled dental checkups every 6 months (well, really everyone should do this, but it’s doubly important when you’re pregnant).
  • Start “brushing” before your baby even gets her first tooth.  Use a wet cloth or baby toothbrush to wipe your infant’s gums and tongue at the end of the day.  This will prepare your infant for teeth brushing in the future.
  • Once the first tooth erupts start using a soft bristle tooth brush two times a day – in the morning and before bed, after the last feeding or bottle
  • Schedule your baby’s first dental visit with a pediatric dentist by age 1 to establish a dental home.
  • Start using fluoride containing toothpaste as soon as the first tooth erupts.  Use a smear (rice grain size) for children 2 and under and a pea-sized amount for children 3 and up.
  • Is there fluoride in your tap water?  If there is, let your child drink it!  Fluoride helps strengthen enamel – making it more resistant to acid attacks.  If you have well water, have it analyzed and discuss the value with your pediatrician or pediatric dentist to see if your child would benefit from a fluoride supplement
  • Baby teeth matter! They help children speak clearly, chew naturally and help pave the way for permanent teeth.  So, let’s take care of them!

Need a pediatric dentist?  Ask your pediatrician for a referral or go to to find one near you.

Near our Evanston office, we love to work with Drs. Glick, Simóne, and Williams at North Shore Dentistry for Children


Written by: Dr. Jessica Grygotis