The Minnesota Oral Health Project

Caring for Your Child’s Teeth at Home

Mariah LaPatka

Preventing cavities with a twice daily dental care routine

Mariah LaPatka, RDH
Consultant, Minnesota Oral Health Project


You do many things to keep your child’s teeth healthy. You make sure your child drinks water with fluoride. You take your child to the dentist and to the doctor. But most importantly, you establish a twice daily dental care routine with your child. With proper care, you can prevent your child from getting cavities!

What is plaque?

Our teeth accumulate buildup called plaque as we go through our day eating and drinking. Plaque and sugar provide the food for the bacteria. Bacteria causes cavities to thrive and begin decaying a tooth. When plaque sits along the gum line of our teeth and in between the teeth it can cause decay. There are two things to do at home to remove plaque: brushing and flossing.

If plaque sits along the gum line for too long it will begin to breakdown the enamel of the tooth. White chalky lines will appear. These white lines are called decalcification and are areas that the enamel has weakened. Cavities will form if teeth are not properly brushed.

Plaque → Calculus

If plaque is allowed to stay on the teeth for too long it will turn into calculus. Calculus is a hard substance that cannot be removed at home and will need to be cleaned at your dentist office. Calculus does not cause cavities but can irritate the gums and eventually cause gingivitis and bone loss (periodontitis) if it is left on the teeth for too long.

chart of dental problems

Proper Brushing

  • Help your child to brush for two minutes in the morning and before bed.
  • Make sure your toothpaste has fluoride in it.
  • Brush your teeth for your child until ages 7-8
  • Brush at a 45-degree angle. When you or your child is brushing, the toothbrush should be at a 45-degree angle along the gum line, using circular motions to sweep plaque away.
  • Use a fluoride rinse to help remineralize and strengthen weakened areas of enamel and to help prevent decay.
  • Floss one time per day.
  • Replace your child’s toothbrush every three months with a soft toothbrush to ensure that the bristles are keeping the teeth as clean.
happy cartoon tooth and brush

Electric Toothbrushes

An electric toothbrush will clean the teeth as well as three brushings with a manual toothbrush. Most electric toothbrushes come with built in timers that help your child to brush for the full two minutes that is recommended. The timers divide the mouth into four sections giving your child 30 seconds to brush a quarter of their mouth. The toothbrush will beep or pause to indicate it is time to move to the next area.

Flossing Tips

Flossing should be done at least one time daily. Children still need to floss even if there are spaces between their teeth, missing teeth, or behind the very last tooth as brushing cannot reach these areas well enough. Using either flosspiks or string floss your child should wrap the floss in a “c” shape around each side of the tooth and go up and down three times. Using this technique will be the best way to remove and disrupt plaque and bacteria between the teeth to help prevent cavities. When cavities are present between the teeth both teeth are affected instead of just one.

Cavities are a preventable disease. Brushing, flossing, and rinsing with a fluoride rinse at home is the first step to being cavity free. Brush for 2 minutes twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste. Floss once a day and use a fluoride rinse at least once a day before bed. Remember to not eat or drink anything except for water after brushing, flossing, and rinsing each night. See your dentist every 6 months for a regular cleaning, exam, and fluoride application. With your help, your child can avoid cavities!

Cartoon of family brushing their teeth

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