Keeping Your Child’s Teeth Healthy and Strong

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June 7, 2014

Keeping Your Child’s Teeth Healthy and Strong

You can do many things to keep your children’s teeth healthy and strong.  Make sure they have a healthy diet, brush every day with fluoridated toothpaste, and see a dental professional regularly.  However, it is especially hard to keep tooth decay from developing in the teeth of very young children.  When my three children were toddlers, they were picky eaters who refused to eat vegetables.  They only ate macaroni and cheese, and they loved nothing more than Nutella sandwiches.  Although I am a physician, I did not think about what yummy Nutella would do to baby teeth.  The first time my son saw a dentist, she found that he already had three cavities in his baby teeth!  Much more pain (for him and for me) was to follow as we had to take care of those cavities in a screaming toddler.

Facts about Tooth Decay and Fluoride 

Any child whose teeth have come in can develop tooth decay. This risk is especially high for children whose water supply does not have enough fluoride. Almost half of children ages 2 to 11 have decay in their baby teeth (the first set of teeth that come in). Tooth decay can be prevented. If tooth decay in children starts and is not treated, it can lead to pain and loss of the affected teeth, and can negatively affect a child’s growth, speech, and appearance. Studies show that painting a thin coat of fluoride, called fluoride varnish, on the teeth of all young children can prevent tooth decay.  

Many very young children do not visit a dentist, but they often do see a primary care doctor or nurse. Primary care clinicians, therefore, can complement the important role that dentists play in keeping children’s teeth healthy.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group of national experts in prevention, recently made some recommendations for the prevention of tooth decay in children from birth to age five years.  The Task Force recommends that primary care clinicians prescribe oral fluoride supplementation starting at age 6 months for children whose water supply is deficient in fluoride.  The Task Force also recommends that primary care clinicians apply fluoride varnish to the primary teeth of infants and children starting at the age of primary tooth eruption. 

Your primary care clinician will likely want to talk with you about applying a fluoride varnish to your child’s teeth once the baby teeth come in. If you live in an area where the local water supply is not fluoridated, he or she may also talk with you about giving your child fluoride supplements. Discuss your child’s risk factors for tooth decay and whether your child is already seeing a dentist. Be comfortable that all your questions have been answered and become fully informed about preventing tooth decay.

You can find out more information about preventing tooth decay at the following website:

Quyen Ngo-Metzger, MD, MPH

Dr. Ngo-Metzger is a general internist and mother of three.  She is the Scientific Director for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.  The opinions expressed in this article is that of the author, and do not reflect the views of the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality or the United States Department of Health and Human Services.