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Preventing Tooth Decay in Young Children

Topic Overview

Tooth decay, called dental caries, is caused by bacteria eating away the outer protective layer (enamel) of a tooth. Help prevent tooth decay in young children by adopting the following healthy habits:

    • Teach your child to brush and floss every day. Clean your baby's gums with a soft baby brush or clean, damp face cloth to remove plaque before the first teeth come in. When your child's first teeth come in, clean teeth with a soft toothbrush. And use a very small amount (grain of rice size) of fluoride toothpaste. When your child is age 3 years, it's okay to start to use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Start flossing your child's teeth when he or she has teeth that touch each other. For more information, see the topic Brushing and Flossing a Child's Teeth.
    • Prevent prolonged contact with sugars in formula and breast milk. Remove a bottle from your baby's mouth before he or she falls asleep. This practice helps prevent mouth bacteria from producing acids that cause baby bottle tooth decay . Also, clean your baby's teeth after feeding, especially at night.
    • Be smart about juice and sugary drinks. Fruit juice doesn't have the valuable fibre of whole fruit. Children can quickly fill up on juice and sugary drinks and miss out on key nutrients from solid foods. Offer whole fruit and vegatables instead of juice. If you do give juice, choose 100% unsweetened juice and limit to 1/2 cup per day. Avoid sugary drinks such as pop and fruit-flavoured beverages. These drinks provide little to no nutrition and take the place of healthier beverages like water and milk.
    • Introduce an open cup for beverages other than breast milk or formula at age 6 months. Work toward a goal of not using a bottle by age 12 to 18 months. By this age, frequent bottle-feedings, especially with juice or other high-sugar liquids, make a child more likely to develop tooth decay. For more information, see the topic Weaning.
    • Provide your older baby or toddler with healthy foods. Give your child nutritious foods , and combine them in ways that help reduce the risk for tooth decay. For example, offer meals that include whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Mozzarella and other cheeses, yogurt, and milk are good for teeth and make great after-meal snacks. They help clear the mouth of harmful sugars and protect against plaque. Make an effort to rinse or brush your child's teeth after he or she eats high-sugar foods, especially sticky, sweet foods like raisins.

Normal amounts of fluoride added to public water supplies and bottled water are safe for children and adults. If your child needs extra fluoride, your dentist may recommend a supplement. Use these only as directed. And keep them out of reach of your child. Too much fluoride can be toxic and can stain a child's teeth.



  1. Canadian Paediatric Society (2014). Feeding your baby in the first year. Caring For Kids. Accessed May 2, 2014.


Adaptation Date: 1/19/2023

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC