Children's Oral Health
Tooth decay (cavities) is one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood in the United States. Untreated tooth decay can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. CDC’s October 2016 Vital Signs reports that children who have poor oral health tend to miss more school days and receive lower grades than children who don’t.
- About 1 of 5 (20%) children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.1
- 1 of 7 (13%) adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.1
- The percentage of children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 years with untreated tooth decay is twice as high for those from low-income families (25%) compared with children from higher-income households (11%).1
The good news is that tooth decay is preventable. Fluoride varnish, a high concentration fluoride coating that is painted on teeth, can prevent about one-third (33%) of decay in the primary (baby) teeth.2 Children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer decayed teeth than children who live in areas where their tap water is not fluoridated.3 Similarly, children who brush daily with fluoride toothpaste will have less tooth decay.4
Applying dental sealants to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth is another way to prevent tooth decay. Studies in children show that sealants reduce decay in the permanent molars by 81% for 2 years after they are placed on the tooth and continue to be effective for 4 years after placement.5
What Parents and Caregivers Can Do
Here are some things you can do to ensure good oral health for your child:
- Protect your child's teeth with fluoride.
- Use fluoride toothpaste.
- If your child is younger than age 6, watch your child brush their teeth. Make sure your child only uses a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and always spits it out rather than swallows it.
- If your child is younger than age 2, do not use fluoride toothpaste unless your doctor or dentist tells you to.
- Learn more about fluoride toothpaste and other sources of fluoride at Brush Up on Healthy Teeth.
- Talk to your pediatrician, family doctor, nurse, or dentist about putting fluoride varnish on your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears in the mouth.
- If your drinking water is not fluoridated, ask your dentist, family doctor, or pediatrician if your child needs oral fluoride supplements like drops, tablets, or lozenges.
- Use fluoride toothpaste.
- Talk to your child's dentist about dental sealants. Sealants protect teeth from decay.
- Have your child visit a dentist for a first checkup by age 1, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- If your school does not have sealant program, ask them to start one.
- Find a dentist if your child needs one. Use the Insure Kids Now Dentist Locator
Related Links for Health Professionals
- Community Preventive Service Task Force Recommendations for Improving Oral Health: Preventing Dental Caries (Cavities)
- Oral Health and Learning [PDF–81KB]
Related Links for Parents
- Infant Formula and Fluorosis
- Oral Health for Kids Health-e-Card
- Dental Sealants
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research's A Healthy Mouth for Your Baby
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research's Seal Out Tooth Decay
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Healthychildren.org
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Children’s Oral Health information
- American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry: My Children’s Teeth
- American Dental Association: Mouth Healthy
- Text4Baby: A free cellphone text messaging service for pregnant women and new moms that includes oral health messages.
1 Dye BA, Xianfen L, Beltrán-Aguilar ED. Selected Oral Health Indicators in the United States 2005–2008. NCHS Data Brief, no. 96. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2012.
2 Marinho VCC, Worthington HV, Walsh T, Clarkson JE. Fluoride varnishes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013; Issue 7. Art. No.: CD002279. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002279.pub2.
3 Community Preventive Services Task Force. Preventing Dental Caries: Community Water Fluoridation website. http://www.thecommunityguide.org/oral/fluoridation.html. Accessed October 23, 2014.
4 Marinho VCC, Higgins JPT, Logan S, Sheiham A. Fluoride toothpastes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2003; Issue 1. Art. No.: CD002278. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002278.
5 Ahovuo-Saloranta A, Forss H, Walsh T, Hiiri A, Nordblad A, Mäkelä M, Worthington HV. Sealants for preventing dental decay in the permanent teeth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013; Issue 3. Art. No.: CD001830. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001830.pub4.
- Page last reviewed: May 4, 2016
- Page last updated: November 15, 2016
- Content source: