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3 expert tips for keeping your child’s teeth healthy

According to the CDC, about one of five (20%) children ages 5 to 11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth and one of seven (13%) adolescents ages 12 to 19 have at least one untreated decayed tooth.

toothpaste on toothbrush with blue bristles
Photo by Anastasiia Ostapovych

Cavities are preventable and, for National Children’s Dental Health Month, Dr. Mitali Patel, a pediatric dentist at Children’s National Hospital, is sharing some tips for keeping your child’s teeth healthy.

“Dental health is an important part of a child’s overall health and oral health is important because it’s more than preventing cavities,” says Dr. Patel. “It includes a range of health and disease prevention, including alignment of facial bones, jaws and teeth. Maintaining nutrition, communication, growth and development are also important.”

Dental Visits

It is recommended that children see the dentist around age 1 or at the time of the first tooth eruption. After the first dental visit, children should continue to see their dentist every six months for a dental cleaning and an oral health exam.  An oral health exam includes checking the teeth for cavities, checking the tissues of the head, face and mouth for disease as well as evaluating growth and development.  Each visit also includes education of the child and parent on how to maintain good oral health and prevent potential oral health issues.

Sometimes, children can be nervous about going to the dentist. It can be helpful to read a book about going to the dentist or visiting your dentist’s office beforehand. Bring younger siblings to observe older siblings, which can help them become comfortable too.

Baby Teeth

Baby teeth play an important role in your child’s nutrition, communication, growth and development—so it’s important to maintain your child’s teeth and keep them healthy. Baby teeth also hold the space for permanent teeth. Some of the baby teeth don’t fall out until children are 11 to 12 years old, maybe even later!

Preventing Tooth Decay

Parents can help prevent tooth decay by limiting the amount and frequency of sugary beverages and sugary snacks. Sugary, sticky snacks not only can get stuck in the grooves of the teeth, but also provide fuel to the bacteria that cause cavities. Avoid prolonged sipping of juice, soda and other sugary drinks. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, starting with a smear of toothpaste when your child is under 3 years old, and then a pea-size amount when they are over 3 years old. Flossing daily and visiting the dentist regularly will also prevent tooth decay and catch any problems early.

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