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Preventing Tooth Decay In Children

By Amy Amin Patil, MD | Pediatrics

Dental decay is the most common chronic medical condition in children across the United States.  It is estimated that nearly 25% of children younger than 5 years old have caries, also known as cavities. As primary care providers, pediatricians help play a vital role in preventive oral health.

As bacteria break down sugars or food debris, they produce acid on the surface of the teeth. This in turn can lead to destruction of the enamel.  However, these three key interventions can help: cleaning teeth regularly, maintaining a low-sugar diet, and ensuring an adequate intake of fluoride on a daily basis. Parents can combine these interventions to reduce plaque producing bacteria and the incidence of caries in their children.

  • Routine Teeth Cleaning
    • For infants: Wipe gums with a wet washcloth after feedings.
    • Start brushing when the first tooth emerges.
    • Choose a soft-bristled toothbrush.
    • Brush for two minutes. You can distract kids with a timer or a song.
    • For children under 3 years old: Use a rice grain- sized smear of fluoride toothpaste twice a day.
    • For children 3-6 years old: Use a pea- sized amount of fluoride toothpaste twice a day. You can also teach them to spit vs. swallow.
  • Diet
    • Be careful with dried fruits, gummy vitamins, and other sticky foods.
    • Brush teeth thoroughly, since foods can stick to the grooves. (The direction of the brushing is not so important.)
    • Avoid giving children bottles of milk or juice immediately before naps or bedtime.
    • Incorporate foods high in calcium and vitamin D twice daily to help strengthen teeth.
  • Fluoride Intake
    • Check if your water source is fluoridated. It it’s not, talk to your pediatrician about fluoride supplementation.
    • Talk to your dentist about sealants, which can help protect against decay.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend that a pediatric dentist evaluate all children by age 1.  Dentists will ensure the teeth are developing normally with no signs of early decay.  Parents can also enforce twice-daily tooth brushing— along with evening brushing as part of a bedtime routine– to significantly reduce the incidence of early caries.  A primary prevention approach will help maintain the wellbeing of all children

Amy Amin, MD is a pediatrician who completed her residency at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital in 2013.  During training she served as a provider in the Yale Pediatric Refugee Clinic, where she addressed cross-cultural medicine issues and treated longstanding chronic diseases. She graduated with Honors and Magna Cum Laude distinction from the Integrated BS/MD Program at the University of Connecticut.  She is board-certified in Pediatrics and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.