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Healthy Living

Take the following steps to prevent tooth decay:

  • Take good care of your own oral health.
  • Take good care of your baby's teeth.
    • Birth to 12 months. Keep your baby's mouth clean by gently wiping the gums with a clean baby washcloth. After the first tooth appears, ask your child's doctor if your baby is getting enough fluoride. Use a just a smear of fluoride toothpaste (or an amount about the size of a grain of rice).
    • 12 to 36 months. Brush your child's teeth 2 times a day. Use a smear of fluoride toothpaste on the brush (or an amount about the size of a grain of rice). The best times to brush are after breakfast and before bed. Since the fluoride found in toothpaste is clearly meant to be swished but not swallowed, make sure to help or watch the child while brushing. When she is old enough, tell her to spit out the toothpaste after brushing.
    • 3 – 6 years. Brush your child's teeth 2 times a day. Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste on the brush.
  • Never put your child to bed with a bottle or food. Not only does this expose your child's teeth to sugars, it can also put your child at risk for ear infections and choking.
  • Give your child a bottle only during meals. Do not use a bottle or sippy cup as a pacifier or let your child walk around with or drink from them for long periods.
  • Check to see if your water is fluoridated. If your tap water comes from a well, your child's doctor or dentist may want to have a water sample tested for natural fluoride content. If your tap water does not have enough fluoride, your child's doctor or dentist will prescribe an appropriate fluoride supplement if your child is at increased risk for tooth decay.
  • Teach your child to drink from a regular cup as soon as possible, preferably by 12 to 15 months of age. Drinking from a cup is less likely to cause the liquid to collect around the teeth. Also, a cup cannot be taken to bed.
  • If your child must have a bottle or sippy cup for long periods, fill it with water only. During car rides, offer only water if your child is thirsty.
  • Don't let your child eat sweet or sticky foods, like candy, gummies, cookies, or fruit roll-ups. There is sugar in foods like crackers and chips too. These foods are especially bad if your child snacks on them a lot. They should only be eaten at mealtime. Teach your child to use his or her tongue to clean food immediately off the teeth.
  • Serve juice only during meals and limit it to 4 to 6 ounces per day. Also, juice is not recommended for babies younger than 6 months.
  • Make an appointment to have your child see the dentist before age 1 if you have any concerns, see any problems, or need more information.


Last Updated
Adapted from How to Prevent Tooth Decay in Your Baby's Teeth (Copyright © 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 4/2010)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.