Children's Oral Health

Overview

Children laying in a circle on the ground

 

Cavities (also known as caries or tooth decay) are one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood in the United States. Untreated cavities can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Children who have poor oral health often miss more school 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
  • Children aged 5 to 19 years from low-income families are twice as likely (25%) to have cavities, compared with children from higher-income households (11%).1

The good news is that cavities are preventable. Fluoride varnish can prevent about one-third (33%) of cavities in the primary (baby) teeth.2 Children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer cavities than children whose water is not fluoridated.3 Similarly, children who brush daily with fluoride toothpaste will have fewer cavities.4

Dental sealants can also prevent cavities for many years. Applying dental sealants to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth prevent 80% of cavities.5

What Parents and Caregivers Can Do

For Babies

damp cloth twice a day, morning and night

Wipe gums twice a day with a soft, clean cloth in the morning after the first feeding and right before bed to wipe away bacteria and sugars that can cause cavities.

soft, small‑bristled toothbrush and plain water

When teeth come in, start brushing twice a day with a soft, small‑bristled toothbrush and plain water.

First birthday candle

Visit the dentist by your baby’s first birthday to spot signs of problems early.

Tooth with varnish applied

Talk to your dentist or doctor about putting fluoride varnish on your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears.

For children younger than 2, consult first with your doctor or dentist regarding the use of fluoride toothpaste.

For Children

Toothbrush with fluoridated toothpaste

Brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

glass of fluoridated water

Drink tap water that contains fluoride.

Sealed tooth

Ask your child’s dentist to apply dental sealants when appropriate.

If your child is younger than 6, watch them brush.
Make sure they use a pea-sized amount of toothepaste and always spit it out rather than swallow.
Help your child brush until they have good brushing skills.

Good Dental Health Is Important for Pregnant Women

When you’re pregnant, you may be more prone to gum disease and cavities, which can affect your baby’s health. Follow these 3 steps to protect your teeth:

Dental Chair

See a dentist (it's safe!) before you deliver

Toothbrush

Brush twice a day

Dental Floss

Floss Daily

If you have nausea, rinse your mouth with 1 teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water after you get sick. This helps wash stomach acid away and keep your tooth enamel safe.

Related Links for Health Professionals
Related Links for Parents

References

  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. https://www.thecommunityguide.org/findings/dental-caries-cavities-community-water-fluoridationExternal. 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.