Dental caries (cavities) are preventable for most children. To keep those pearly whites pearly it takes being thoughtful about eating habits, brushing habits, drinking habits, and being knowledgeable about your child’s water supply. Although physicians are making robots to perform surgery and putting tiny cameras in our bodies to explore the inside, we may sometimes lose sight of easy, affordable ways to improve the lives of millions. Maybe we simply retreat from those prevention efforts…or maybe it’s something else.

The CDC reported this spring that for the first time in 40 years, preschoolers have more cavities than they did 5 years ago. And many children have so many cavities that they show up at the dentist with double-digit numbers requiring general anesthesia for repair. In one month alone, I’ve done a number of pre-op visits for dental anesthesia for patients in my clinic.

Many national headlines have covered this data over the last few months. And I would suggest there is one thing to stress here. Part of this increase in cavities may be a cultural issue, a parent-culture issue. That is, many parents may not be brushing their children’s teeth because of push-back from their children and a goal to maintain harmony at home. And many parents believe bottled water is safer than that from the tap. When it comes to teeth, that isn’t the case.

Sometimes we really have to act like adults and do the flossing.

I think this bump in cavity numbers is a parenting issue more than anything else. Although factors influencing the development of cavities include access to affordable dentistry, misunderstandings about the safety of fluoride in drinking water, babies going to bed with bottles, and familial risk factors (bacteria in our mouth, for example), we parents clearly play a part, too. There are a few things we can do:

5 Tips To Prevent Cavities In Children:

  1. Take your baby or toddler to the dentist for a check-up before or around their 1st birthday, even if they only have 2 teeth! The American Academy of Pediatric dentistry suggests you start check-ups no later than 1 year (not 3 years). If your dentist sends you away and tells you to return at age 3, find a new dentist.
  2. Don’t make formula with bottled water. Use tap water. Filter it or boil it if you like, but don’t buy bottled water for baby or for your children. Water with fluoride is protective for your child’s teeth. Further, get milk off your baby’s or child’s teeth prior to bedtime. Never leave a bottle in the crib with your baby, and do your best to brush their teeth after their last feed.
  3. You heard about Alicia Silverstone’s feeding session on Youtube, I assume. The one where she pre-chews her baby’s food (premastication) and transfers it back to his mouth? My advice: don’t do this. You transfer all the cavity-causing bacteria from your mouth to your baby’s mouth and increase their risk for early cavities. I feel strongly that parenting like a celebrity isn’t aways the right way. And another thing: don’t “clean” your baby’s pacifier with your mouth. Ever.
  4. Toothpaste! Use fluoridated toothpaste as soon as your baby gets teeth. You can buy the infant toothpaste if you’d like, but it doesn’t assist with cleaning better than water. As soon as your baby gets a tooth, use a smear of children’s toothpaste (think rice kernel amount) until they are around 2 years of age and can spit. After they know how to spit, use a pea-sized amount of children’s toothpaste thereafter.
  5. My Rule of 2’s: Brush your child’s teeth every day, 2 times a day, until they are in 2nd grade, for 2 minutes at a time. Get an egg timer to help because as I learned, that 2 minutes can feel like an eternity with a restless toddler. And if your child wants to try brushing on their own first, fine. But then you clean up the job thereafter.

Flossing every day earns you and your child an A plus. I’m still working on it…