Unless otherwise stated, the information concerning the following topics is obtained from the Canadian Dental Association.


 Cleaning Teeth

 Fluoride and Your Child

 Going to the Dentist

 Tooth Growth

 Good Food, Healthy Teeth


 Early Childhood Tooth Decay

 Soother and Thumb Sucking 






 Cleaning Teeth


Young children are not able to clean their own teeth. As a parent, you must do it for them when they are very young and do it with them, as they get older.


When your child can write (not print) his or her name, your child is ready to do a good job brushing. You should check to make sure your child does a good job.


How To Brush 

  • Hold the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the teeth. Point the bristles to where the gums and teeth meet.

  • Use gentle circles. Do not scrub. Clean every surface of every tooth. For the front teeth, use the "toe" or front part of the brush.

The key word is gentle. You can hurt the gums by brushing too hard.


Tooth Brushes


The best kind of brush is soft, with rounded bristles. It should be the right size for your child’s mouth. You will need to buy a new toothbrush at least every 3 or 4 months. Children can be hard on toothbrushes. If the bristles get bent or worn down, they will not do a good job, and may hurt your child's gums.




Make sure the toothpaste has fluoride. Check the box or tube for the symbol of the Canadian Dental Association. This means the toothpaste has fluoride. Use only a bit of toothpaste, about the size of a pea, and make sure your child spits it out.


How to Floss

  • Take a piece of floss about as long as your child's arm. Wrap it around your middle fingers, leaving about 2 inches between the hands. Use your index fingers to guide the floss between the teeth.

  • Slide the floss between the teeth and wrap it into a "C" shape. It should wrap around the base of the tooth, where the tooth meets the gum.

  • Wipe the tooth from bottom to top 2 or 3 times, or more, until it is squeaky clean.

  • Be sure you floss both sides of each tooth, and don’t forget the backs of the last molars.

  • Move to a new part of the floss as you move from tooth to tooth.

  • For a better cleaning, floss before brushing.

Should my child always brush right before bed?


Yes. If you don't get rid of the germs (bacteria) and sugars that cause cavities, they have all night to do their dirty work. Plus, when your child is asleep, he or she does not produce as much spit (or saliva). Saliva helps keep the mouth clean. So brushing at bedtime is very important.




 Fluoride and Your Child


Fluoride is a mineral found in nature. It makes the hard outer layer of teeth (called enamel) stronger. When the outer layer is strong, teeth are less likely to get cavities.


Children can get fluoride in 4 ways:

  • in the water,

  • in fluoride toothpaste,

  • in fluoride treatments,

  • in fluoride supplements (pills or lozenges).

Adding fluoride to the water is the best way to provide fluoride protection to a large number of people at a low cost. That's why many towns and cities put fluoride in the water. Fluoride is also in most toothpastes.


If you live somewhere that does not put fluoride in the water AND your dentist thinks your child is likely to get cavities, he or she may suggest that your child have a bit of fluoride every day. This is called a fluoride supplement. The amount your dentist suggests will depend on:

  • your child's age and

  • how much fluoride (if any) is in the water naturally.

To give your child even more protection against cavities, your dentist may suggest a fluoride treatment. It is given when your child has a check-up.




 Going to the Dentist


Here are three reasons to take your child for dental check-ups:

  • You can find out if the cleaning you do at home is working.

  • Your dentist can find problems right away and fix them.

  • Your child can learn that going to the dentist helps prevent problems.

In most cases, a check-up every 6 months will let your child's dentist catch small problems early.


Your child's first visit to the dentist can be around age 1. The goal is to have your child visit the dentist before there is a problem with his or her teeth.


Your child needs to see the dentist by age 2 or 3, when all the baby teeth have come in. Your dentist may want to take x-rays. They show decay between the teeth. They will also show if teeth are coming in the way they should. Your child's dentist may talk to you about fluoride.


Once your child has permanent molars, your dentist may suggest sealing them to protect them from cavities. A sealant is a kind of plastic that is put on the chewing surface of the molars. The plastic seals the tooth and makes it less likely to trap food and germs.


The dentist says my child needs a filling in a baby tooth. Since the tooth is going to fall out, why bother?


Some primary (or baby) teeth will be in your child's mouth until age 12. The tooth that needs to be fixed may be one of those.


Broken teeth or teeth that are infected can hurt your child's health and the way your child feels about him or herself.


To do a filling, the dentist removes the decay and "fills" the hole with metal, plastic or other material. A filling can be a cheap and easy way to fix a problem that could be painful and cost more later because it stops decay from spreading deeper into the tooth.


If a filling is not done and decay spreads, the tooth may need to be pulled out. If this happens, your child may need a space maintainer to hold space for the permanent tooth. When a baby (or primary) tooth is missing, the teeth on each side may move into the space. They can block the permanent tooth from coming in. To hold the space, your dentist may put a plastic or metal space maintainer on the teeth on each side of the space, to keep the teeth from moving in.





 Tooth Growth


All 20 baby (or primary) teeth come in by the time your child is 2 or 3 years old. This chart tells you when baby teeth come in (or erupt) in most children. If you have questions about your child's teeth, talk to your dentist.


If your child is getting his or her teeth and seems to be in pain, you can:

  • rub the gums with a clean finger, or

  • rub the gums with the back of a small, cool spoon.

If your child is still unhappy, your dentist, pharmacist or doctor can suggest an over-the-counter medicine to ease the pain.


Here's what you should not do:

  • Do not use the kind of painkiller that can be rubbed on your child's gums. Your child may swallow it.

  • Do not give your child teething biscuits. They may have sugar added or contain hidden sugars.

  • Do not ignore a fever. Getting new teeth does not make babies sick or give them a fever. If your child has a fever, check with your doctor.

At age 6 or 7, the first adult (or permanent) teeth come in. They are known as the "first molars," or the "6-year molars." They come in at the back of the mouth, behind the last baby (or primary) teeth. They do not replace any primary teeth.


Also at around age 6, children start to lose their primary teeth. The roots slowly get weak, and the tooth falls out. Children lose primary teeth until they are about 12 years old.


It's okay for children to wiggle their primary teeth if they are loose. But it's not okay to use force to pull out a tooth that's not ready to come out. When a tooth comes out at the right time, there will be very little bleeding.


The following charts tell you when teeth come in and fall out in most children. If you have questions about your child's teeth, talk to your dentist.




 Good Food, Healthy Teeth


We have all heard that sugar is bad for teeth. Why is this so? It's because when your child eats or drinks sugars, the germs (bacteria) in your child's mouth mix with the sugars to make a mild acid. This acid attacks the hard outer layer of teeth (also called enamel). It can make holes (or cavities) in the teeth.


The damage that sugars do depends on:

  • how much sugar goes into the mouth, and

  • how long it stays in the mouth.

Any kind of sugar will MIX with germs in the mouth. Natural sugars can have the same effect on teeth as white (or refined) sugar out of the bag! Many healthy foods contain natural sugars. Milk contains natural sugar. If you put your child to bed with a bottle of milk, the milk stays in the mouth for a long time. This may cause cavities.


Unsweetened fruit juice may have no added sugar, but fruit juice has natural sugars in it. If your child is always sipping juice between meals, the teeth are being coated in sugars over and over again. Water is the best drink to have between meals. Starchy foods, like teething biscuits, break down to make sugars. If these kinds of food stay in your child's mouth long enough, they will make the acid that can cause cavities. Your job is to clean your child's teeth, not to stop your child from having milk, juice, bread or noodles. Your child needs these foods to stay healthy.


Read the labels of the packaged food you buy. By law, everything that's in the food is listed by weight. So if a sugar is listed first, you know that there is more sugar than anything else. These are sugars you can look for on labels: corn sweeteners, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, honey, maple syrup, molasses, sucrose.


 Also, check to see if liquid medicines (such as cough syrup) have sugars. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to give you medicines that are sugar-free.






Growing children need and like snacks. Here are some smart ways to give snacks:

  • Limit the number of times a day your child eats or drinks sugars. If your child sips juice or pop while playing, he or she will have sugars in the mouth over and over again. Water is the best drink to have between meals.

  • Do not give your child sugar-rich foods that stay in the mouth for a long time like gum with sugar in it, suckers (or lollipops) and other hard candy. Stay away from soft, sticky sweets that get stuck in the mouth such as toffee, raisins and rolled-up fruit snacks or fruit leather.

  • Keep good snacks handy, where your child can get them. Have carrot sticks or cheese cubes on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Children like small things like small boxes of cereal, small fruits and vegetables, and small packs of nuts or seeds (provided they are safe for your child). Keep them in a low cupboard.

  • To keep your child from asking for sweets, do not buy them. If they are not in the house, you can't give them out. If you do serve sweets, limit them to meals. When your child is eating a meal, there is more saliva in the mouth. This helps to wash away the sugars.



 Early Childhood Tooth Decay


Mother's Milk, formula, cow's milk and fruit juice all contain sugars. Babies may get early childhood tooth decay from:

  • going to bed with a bottle of milk, formula or juice and

  • falling asleep at the breast with milk still in the mouth.

It can happen to children up to age 4.


Once your child has teeth, lift his or her lips once a month and check the teeth. Look for dull white spots or lines on the teeth. These may be on the necks of the teeth next to the gums. Dark teeth are also a sign. If you see any signs, go to the dentist right away. Early childhood tooth decay must be treated quickly. If not, your child may have pain and infection.


If you give your child a bottle of milk, formula or juice at bedtime, stopping all at once will not be easy. Here are some tips:

  • Put plain water in the bottle.

  • If this is turned down, give your child a clean soother, a stuffed toy or a blanket.

  • If your child cries, do not give up.

  • Comfort him or her, and try again.

If this does not work, try watering down your child's bottle over a week or two, until there is only plain water left.



 Soother and Thumb Sucking


It is normal for babies to suck. It gets them food and helps them relax.


By the time your child is 2 or 3, he or she has less need to suck. If your child still likes to suck, a soother is better than sucking a thumb. Why? Because you can control when and how your child uses a soother. You can't control a thumb going into the mouth.


Never put sugar, honey or corn syrup on a soother. They can cause cavities.


It's best to get your child to stop sucking before permanent teeth come in, at about age 5. If a child keeps sucking a soother or thumb after the permanent teeth have come in, this could cause problems with how the jaw and teeth grow.