Information Bites

Information Bites

Baby Teeth are Important

  • Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of young children. However, it is almost 100% preventable!
  • Healthy baby teeth are important—they help us eat foods, form words, and hold space for adult teeth.
  • Healthy baby teeth mean a healthy mouth for adult teeth.
  • Tooth decay can affect your child’s overall health and ability to learn. Children with pain caused by cavities have a hard time paying attention in class and miss more school days than other children.

What Causes Cavities?

  • We all have germs in our mouths called “Strep Mutans” and “Lactobacilli.”
  • The combination of germs and carbohydrates (sugar and starches) creates an acid that attacks teeth for up to 20 minutes.
  • Plaque is a sticky film that is constantly building up on our teeth, and is made from the germs and their byproducts.
  • Germs will never be completely gone from our mouths—the goal is to keep them under control by brushing and flossing.
  • Repeated acid attacks on our teeth can make cavities.
  • Cavities must be treated by a dentist.

Cavities are Preventable!

  • Cavities are almost 100% preventable.
  • Brush twice a day, two minutes at a time, with small amount of fluoride toothpaste—smear the size of a grain of rice until age 3, the size of a pea after that. Floss once a day as soon as teeth touch!
  • Get a dental checkup twice a year. Medicaid and most dental insurance plans cover two preventive visits each year.
  • Ask the dentist about fluoride varnish and sealants—they help protect the teeth from cavities.

Drink More Water—Less Juice and Soda Pop!

  • Nutrition plays a key role in oral and overall health. Foods and drinks high in sugar and lower in fiber can cause acid attacks on your teeth, leading to cavities.
  • Water is the best drink for your body. It makes up half of our body weight and it helps digest food and moves nutrients through our body.
  • Water may contain fluoride, a natural mineral that helps prevent cavities.
  • Juice and soda have a lot of sugar in them and no nutritional value. Replace them with water!

Tooth Healthy Everyday Foods

  • “Tooth healthy” foods and drinks are lower in refined carbohydrates and include fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat and beans, and whole grain breads and pastas. “Tooth unhealthy” foods and drinks include crackers, dried fruit, fruit snacks, chips, cookies, juice, and soda pop.
  • A treat every once in a while is okay! Instead of not allowing certain foods or drinks or labeling them as unhealthy, save them for special days.
  • It is important to have meals and snacks at regularly scheduled times. This limits the number of acid attacks on teeth, giving teeth time to rest and rebuild.

Snacking for Healthy Teeth

  • Here are some tooth healthy snack ideas:
  • Cheese and yogurt
  • Unflavored milk
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grain breads and cereals
  • Fresh fruit
  • Meat
  • Water
  • Beans

Frequency of Snacking

  • How often kids snack—not just what they eat—can be harmful to their teeth.
  • Teeth need breaks between meals and snacks to prevent cavities.
  • Grazing on snacks or sipping juice all day causes cavities.
  • Eat and drink in one sitting instead of sipping and snacking all day long.

Brushing and Flossing

  • Brushing and flossing our teeth are two important ways to prevent tooth decay.
  • Brush all sides of every tooth using a small smear of fluoridated toothpaste, which takes about two minutes, two times a day. Don’t rinse the toothpaste from the teeth.
  • A parent should assist with brushing until a child is around 8 years old.
  • Brush your teeth with the kids! You are an important role model and this shows that you take care of your teeth, too.
  • Each family member should have their own toothbrush. Replace each toothbrush every 3 to 4 months.
  • When the sides of teeth touch, it is important to floss at least once a day to remove food and germs stuck between teeth.

Swish and Swallow

  • After you eat and when brushing is not possible, rinse your mouth with water, a technique called swish and swallow. Kids can usually swish and swallow at about age 3.
  • Swish and swallow does not replace brushing, but helps rinse food off teeth and decrease the acid.

Lift the Lip and Look!

  • At least every month, lift your child’s lip and take a close look at the teeth and gums.
  • Tooth decay often starts along the front or back side of the front teeth or along the gums.
  • The first sign of early tooth decay is a white spot. If you notice white or brown spots on the teeth or see anything unusual, contact your child’s dentist or medical provider.
  • A dentist or medical provider may be able to stop or reverse decay if it is caught early by applying fluoride varnish.

Visiting the Dentist

  • Children should have their teeth checked by a dentist or medical provider by their first birthday or when the first tooth comes in.
  • Regular dental checkups are important for every child because changes in teeth can happen quickly.
  • A dentist focuses on preventing and treating problems with your teeth and gums.
  • Other members of the dental team assist the dentist—they may brush and clean the teeth, apply fluoride varnish, or take x-rays of the teeth.
  • Be aware of children’s feelings about going to the dentist—some may feel nervous, some may feel excited.
  • The more children understand about visiting the dentist, the more comfortable they may feel.

Get the Most Out of Your Child’s Dental Visit

During your child’s checkup:

  • Talk about your child’s eating and snacking habits.
  • Ask the dentist if you are brushing your child’s teeth correctly.
  • Share any concerns or questions about your child’s oral health. Is he at high risk for tooth decay? What can you do to reduce the risk?
  • Discuss whether your child needs fluoride. If your water doesn’t contain fluoride, drops or tablets may be recommended.
  • Ask about fluoride varnish.


  • Fluoride is a natural mineral that helps prevent cavities and can even reverse early tooth decay!
  • Find out if your water is fluoridated. If it is not, your child may need to get fluoride from another source, such as fluoride drops or tablets from your dentist or medical provider.
  • It is important to use fluoride toothpaste when your brush. It helps prevent cavities by strengthening teeth.
  • Ask your dentist or medical provider about fluoride varnish to protect against cavities. Fluoride varnish is like a special vitamin that keeps our teeth strong, happy and healthy. It is “painted” on the child’s teeth during a dental checkup or at the doctor’s office during a well-child visit.