Caring for children’s teeth between ages 6 to 18

You can help your children literally make their permanent teeth permanent. Just teach your kids to take great care of their teeth at a young age for a healthy smile that can last a lifetime.

While oral health is important from birth, it’s especially critical starting at age 6 when permanent teeth begin to come in. Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases for kids, and it’s usually preventable

Cavities and gum disease happen more often as children reach adolescence – with 54% of kids ages 12 to 19 having cavities. And keep in mind during their school years, children with good oral health perform better academically and miss fewer days of school than children with poor oral health.

That’s why it’s important to learn and practice great oral health habits early. Here’s how you can help children develop and maintain a healthy smile.

1. Encourage daily dental hygiene. 

To prevent cavities and gum disease, it’s necessary to remove food and plaque that may linger in the mouth. Teach your children to brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes each time and floss daily to clean areas a toothbrush can’t reach. Make sure they use a soft-bristle toothbrush with a  fluoride toothpaste, and change out the toothbrush or toothbrush head every three to four months. 

2. Take them to the dentist regularly. 

Like adults, children should see a dentist at least once a year for a checkup and cleaning. Professional cleanings remove tartar that brushing and flossing alone won’t eliminate.  The dentist will also examine your child’s teeth to detect and treat any cavities and other oral problems as early as possible.

If your child is at high risk for cavities, your child’s dentist may recommend additional cavity-fighting strategies, such as a fluoride treatment or dental sealants. Sealants are thin protective coatings that keep food, bacteria and plaque out of the grooves in teeth.

Your dentist may also refer your child to an orthodontist. The specialist may recommend braces — usually beginning between ages 10 and 14 — to correct crowded or misaligned teeth that could otherwise lead to cavities or gum disease.

3. Serve healthy foods. 

Sugars and starches cause bacteria to produce acid that eats away at a tooth’s surface — which often leads to cavities. Provide smile-friendly snacks like nuts, cheese, low-sugar yogurt, fruit, and veggies. Meals should include a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and dairy products that have the nutrients needed for a healthy body and smile. 

4. Keep them hydrated. 

Water is an excellent alternative to sugary sports drinks, energy drinks, juices, and soda. It’s a basic necessity for health, helps clean the mouth, and avoids the sugars that lead to tooth decay and obesity.

5. Purchase a mouth guard. 

Playing contact sports can put your children at risk for lost and cracked teeth, along with damaged roots and crowns. Protect them against mouth injuries by purchasing a mouth guard.

6. Talk to them about tobacco. 

Because nearly all smokers try their first cigarette by age 18, it’s a good idea to start warning your children about the dangers of tobacco as early as age 5 and keep the conversation going throughout childhood.