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Tips for keeping your kids cavity-free

Cavity Risk Factors

Tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease that is preventable.  Bacteria mixing with food creates acid that erodes enamel on your child's teeth.  Find out if they are at risk of developing cavities.

  • Tooth decay is contagious so be sure to not share your toothbrush or drinks with your child.
  • Answering "YES" to any of these risk factors may mean your child is at a higher risk for developing tooth decay:
    • Mother or primary caregiver had active tooth decay in past 12 months
    • Mother or primary caregiver does not have a dentist
    • Child uses bottle/sippy cup with fluid other than water
    • Child has frequent snacking
    • Child has special health care needs
    • Child is Medicaid eligible

First Dental Visit

  • Schedule your child's first dental exam by age one.
  • As soon as teeth appear, be sure to brush them at least 2 minutes twice per day (morning and evening).
  • As soon as two teeth touch, be sure to start flossing at least once per day.

Food + Drink Tips

  • Avoid giving your child sugary foods or drinks.  If you choose to give your child juice, limit to 4 oz with a meal.  Instead, drink fluoridated tap water.
  • Avoid sticky candy that can get stuck in teeth.  Instead, consider sugar-free gum.
  • Avoid snacking throughout the day. Food mixes with bacteria in the mouth to cause acid attacks which erodes tooth enamel. Tooth enamel doesn't grow back.  Instead limit eating to meals and specific snack times when you can drink watch and/or brush.
  • Avoid giving your child a bottle in bed, instead take it away after feeding.


Brushing Basics

Brushing teeth is one of the most effective and easiest ways to prevent tooth decay.  To be effective for your child, do it at least two times per day, for at least two minutes, and with proper technique.  Use fluoridated toothpaste to cover all tooth surfaces.
  1. Put the toothbrush along the line between the gum and the teeth at a 45 degree angle.
  2. Brush all chewing surfaces of the teeth. Include sides, top, and back of teeth and tongue with small circles for at least two minutes twice per day.  The most important time is right before bed.
  3. After brushing, have your child spit out the toothpaste without rinsing.


Help with Brushing

Even though your child may think she can brush her teeth all by herself. Many children lack the hand dexterity to brush their own teeth until the age of 7-8.  It's up to you to help them out!
  • According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry: "Be sure to brush your preschooler’s teeth and supervise the brushing and flossing of school-age children until they are 7 to 8 years of age."
  • You can let your child brush by themselves first and then help them brush & floss afterward.
  • Young children do best with routines. Set times to brush and floss for example after breakfast and before bed.
  • Using a brushing chart can be a fun way to start a brushing and flossing habit. Consider connecting rewards to chart usage.
  • Consider brushing and flossing as a family, that way your child will see you do it and follow your lead.

Toothbrushing Tools

Choosing the right toothbrushing tools may seem overwhelming. There are so many to choose from.  Not to mention when should you start to use fluoridated toothpaste or mouthwash?  Don't worry, we've got you covered.
  • Pick an appropriate sized toothbrush (either manual or powered).
  • Look for a small brush to fit smaller mouths & a larger handle so smaller hands can control it.
  • Choose soft-bristled toothbrushes (to be gentle on the gums).
  • Change your child's toothbrush after 3 months or sooner if the bristles are fraying. Frayed bristles can hurt gums and lose their effectiveness for cleaning. Also change it after sickness.
  • Use a toothpaste with fluoride for your child as soon as the first tooth emerges.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice or smaller until age 3.
  • For children ages 3-6, use toothpaste the size of a pea.
  • As soon as two of your child's teeth touch, you will need to use dental floss.
  • Dental tape is helpful for children with teeth spread wide apart.
  • Waxed floss is helpful for children with teeth spaced close together.
  • Mouthwash is not recommended for children under 6 years of age (unless otherwise recommended by your child's dentist).
  • Children 6 - 12 years of age should only use mouthwash under adult supervision.


Send a brush, save a smile

According to a survey of North Dakota rural, low-income, & Native American third graders, only 49% claimed to own their own toothbrush.

We've partnered with the Great Plains Food Bank's School Backback Program to ensure that children-in-need across ND have access to FREE Toothbrush Kits.

Since 2017, 46,000 toothbrushes have been given away to North Dakota children-in-need. We invite you to join us in providing FREE toothbrushes.