Learning About Dental Care for Your Child

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Chart of primary teeth and when each tooth comes in and falls out

What is good dental care for your child?

It's never too early to start cleaning your child's gums and teeth. Bacteria, like those found in plaque, can lead to dental problems. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria that sticks to teeth above and below the gum line. The bacteria in plaque use sugars in food to make acids. These acids can cause tooth decay and gum disease.

Good brushing habits can help to remove bacteria and prevent plaque. And regular teeth cleaning by your child's dentist can remove tartar, which is plaque that has built up and hardened.

As part of your child's dental health, give your child healthy foods, including whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Try to avoid foods that are high in sugar and processed carbohydrates, such as pastries, pasta, and white bread. Healthy eating helps to keep gums healthy and make teeth strong. It also helps your child avoid tooth decay, which can lead to holes (cavities) in the teeth.

How can you manage your child's dental care?

Birth to 3 years

  • Make sure that your family practices good dental habits. Keeping your own teeth and gums healthy lowers the risk of passing bacteria from your mouth to your child. Also, avoid sharing spoons and other utensils with your child.
  • Don't put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice, milk, formula, or other sugary liquid. This raises the chance of tooth decay.
  • Use a soft cloth to clean your baby's gums. Start a few days after birth, and do this until the first teeth come in. As soon as the teeth come in, clean them with a soft toothbrush. Ask your dentist if it's okay to use a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Experts recommend that your child have a dental examination within 6 months after the first teeth appear or at 12 months of age, whichever comes first.

Ages 3 to 6 years

  • Your child can learn how to brush his or her own teeth at about 3 years of age. Children should be brushing their own teeth, morning and night, by age 4. You should still supervise and check for proper cleaning.
  • Give your child a small, soft toothbrush. Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Encourage your child to watch you and older siblings brush teeth. Teach your child not to swallow the toothpaste.
  • Talk with your dentist about when and how to floss your child's teeth and to teach your child to floss.
  • Help children age 4 years and older to stop sucking their fingers, thumbs, or pacifiers. If your child can't stop, see your dentist. A children's dentist is specially trained to treat this problem.

Ages 6 to 16 years

  • A child's teeth should be flossed as soon as the teeth touch each other. Flossing can be hard for a child to learn. Talk with your dentist about the right way to teach your child how to floss.
  • Your dentist may advise the use of a mouthwash that contains fluoride. But teach your child not to swallow it.
  • Use disclosing tablets from time to time. They can help you see if any plaque is left on your child's teeth after brushing. These tablets are chewable and will colour any plaque left on the teeth after the child brushes. You can buy these at most drugstores.
  • After your child's permanent teeth begin to appear, talk with your dentist about having dental sealant placed on the molars.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your dentist or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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