So many children have so many cavities, that it seems almost impossible that cavities are 100% preventable. Even so, it is completely true that cavities are preventable with proper care of your child’s teeth. To keep your child’s teeth healthy may require that you make a commitment to changing some habits.

If my child has cavities, it is my fault?

Try not to be too hard on yourself if your child already has cavities. It is only with great vigilance that you can prevent  cavities. It is like the challenge to exercise regularly…it takes a long-term commitment. Sometimes we are more successful, and sometimes we are less successful. But we always keep trying because we know it is a lifetime commitment to healthy living.

Why is it important to prevent cavities?

Cavities are a preventable medical condition, which can affect your child in many ways. The habits you form now will last your child for a lifetime, and healthy teeth in childhood will allow your child to have healthy teeth throughout their life. Children will cavities suffer unnecessary pain and suffering. Many children do not sleep soundly and perform poorly in school due to tooth pain. Child lying in bed suffering from tooth pain

How to Prevent All Cavities

You have to do a lot of things right in order to prevent all cavities. If this list seems overwhelming, work on what you can do and keep trying to improve.

  1. Keep sugars off the teeth

    Children should have sugary foods and beverages only at mealtimes and not throughout the day and night.  The goal is to minimize the time that any sugary or starchy foods are on the teeth. Only put water in a sippy cup or bottle in between meals. Bottles or sippy cups with a sugary beverage are particularly harmful to teeth, because the teeth are constantly bathed in sugar.  Caregivers should use milk in bottles and sippy cups at mealtimes only and offer water between meals.  Sodas and juice, even diluted juice, add sugar and acid to teeth and should be avoided completely.

    A sugary beverage at bedtime or nap time can be extremely damaging for teeth.  Bottle mouth is a condition of severe tooth decay caused by bathing the teeth in sugar from a bottle at night.  Caregivers should avoid putting their baby to bed with a bottle but if it cannot be avoided, the bottle should contain only water.child drinking a bottle with only water

  2. Drink tap water with fluoride

    Fluoride is a magic shield for the teeth. Fluoride is important for healthy teeth and works in various ways to prevent dental problems. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in food and water.  In 2005, the CDC declared the fluoridation of public drinking water to be one of the most effective  public health measures of the twentieth century. 

    If your water is from a private well your tap water is unlikely to contain fluoride. Ask your doctor how you can supplement with fluoride from other sources.

    Beware of bottled water! Bottled water and most filtered water does not contain fluoride, including water marketed to parents for mixing formula.  It may seem like you are giving your child purer water when it comes from a bottle, but it is actually harming the development of healthy teeth that can last your child a lifetime.
    § Child drinking tap water poured from a pitcher

  3. Bring your child to the dentist twice a year


    Find a dental home for your child and bring your child to the dentist at least two times per year for preventive services. If the child only sees a dentist when there is a problem, the child does not have a dental home.

    The first time the child should go to the dentist is when that first tooth comes through or by age one at the latest.

    Most dentists will apply fluoride varnish and sealants to your child’s teeth. These act as a strong shield against cavities.

    It can be challenging to find a dentist if you live in a rural area or on a public program, like a Minnesota Health Care Plan. If you are on Medicaid, your local public health agency can help you find a dentist.  If you live in Minnesota, you can find a dentist in your area at Find a Dentist. child at the dentist

  4. Brush for two minutes twice a day

    All children should use fluoridated toothpaste.  One and two year olds should use toothpaste in the amount of a grain of rice, and three to six year olds should use the amount of the size of a pea.

    Brush your child’s teeth for your child. You may be surprised to learn that children do not have the dexterity to brush their own teeth until ages 7 or 8. Children need to have adults brush their teeth for them until they are old enough to adequately brush all teeth.  The back teeth with all their nooks and crannies are particularly hard to brush.

    You should start cleaning a child’s mouth as a newborn, taking a moist cloth to wipe the gums after each feeding.  This serves two purposes:  the baby gets used to having their mouths cleaned so when they have teeth, they adjust to brushing easier.  It also keeps the mouth clean and healthy.  When the first tooth comes in, start brushing with a soft brush with fluoridated toothpaste, an amount no bigger than a grain of rice.  Wipe out the excess toothpaste with a moist cloth. Healthy baby teeth lead to healthy permanent teeth and should be cared for daily.

    brushing chart showing how much toothpaste to apply by age

  5. Have your doctor and dentist apply fluoride varnish 4 times per year

    Under the Affordable Care Act, fluoride varnish is a covered preventive care service. Fluoride helps remineralize teeth so the enamel is stronger and prevents demineralization of teeth.  Fluoride also inhibits the growth of bacteria that causes cavities. Your doctor or dentist should ask you if you would like this service, and always say yes! If they don’t ask you about it, ask your doctor or dentist about it.