Despite modern dentistry and the availability of at-home oral care products, tooth decay is one of the most common childhood diseases. One in five children in the U.S. have at least one untreated, decaying tooth.

We know how important it is for our child’s teeth to be brushed at least twice a day to help keep them strong and healthy. But keeping your child’s teeth clean can be a challenge, especially when so many parents and kids juggle hectic schedules and are tempted to reach for sugary snacks throughout the day. 

Here are eight tips on how to keep children’s teeth clean.

1. Start Them Off Right

First of all, there’s no avoiding brushing your child’s teeth daily to help keep them healthy. Even before a baby’s first tooth has erupted, parents should clean their gums daily with a piece of clean gauze or a damp facecloth. This helps wipe away excess bacteria and gets them used to the sensation of having their mouth cleaned.

When the first tooth arrives, you’ll want to start brushing it and other teeth as they come in twice daily with a gentle wet toothbrush designed for children. Around 18 months of age, start brushing their teeth using a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride children’s toothpaste. Teach your child how to spit out the toothpaste versus swallowing it.

You should also introduce them to flossing when their teeth come in and are touching each other. Use a handheld disposable flosser to make the job easier.

Many children need help and supervision cleaning their teeth until they’re about seven or eight years old. You can make the task more fun by playing a favorite song of theirs that’s at least two minutes long for them to brush their teeth to and buying them their favorite toothpaste.

2. Take Them to Regular Dental Checkups

When do you need to begin taking your child to the dentist for regular checkups? By the time their first tooth appears or when they’ve celebrated their first birthday—whatever comes first.

Although that may sound early, it will help them get used to the sights and sounds of a dental office environment and show them that it’s not a scary place. Your child’s dentist will also be able to tell if they’ll eventually benefit from orthodontic treatment such as braces.

Starting regular dental care early will ensure their mouth stays healthy from the start and encourage them to take their oral care seriously as they grow into an adult.

3. Avoid Sweet and Sticky Foods

Avoid giving your child sweet foods in between meals such as candy, soda, cookies, and other treats that can contribute to tooth decay. Just as important is limiting or avoiding sticky foods as well. Starchy snacks such as crackers and chips can cling to teeth, causing plaque to form and encouraging acid and bacteria growth that can lead to tooth decay.

Dried fruit is another cavity culprit. While it’s often packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients, it also contains a lot of sugar and can be very sticky. Certain dried fruits like cranberries may also contain added manufactured sugars.

4. Don’t Leave a Bottle With Your Child at Night

Unless it contains plain unflavored water, don’t leave a bottle with your baby or young child when you put them to bed. Milk, formula, fruit juice, and other beverages contain sugars that can contribute to baby bottle tooth decay. If allowed to drink from a bottle during the night, their young teeth are basically soaking in a sweet solution for hours at a time.

5. Give Them Sugarless Gum

Sugarless gum is one sweet treat you don’t have to worry about harming your child’s teeth. Chewing sugarless gum encourages saliva production to wash away bacteria. It also helps neutralize acids in the mouth that can contribute to tooth decay.

Sugarless gum can also help freshen breath. Give your child a piece to help tame their sweet tooth between meals while helping to protect their teeth.

6. Give Them a Piece of Hard Cheese

A piece of firm cheese such as cheddar or Colby is just as effective as sugarless gum when it comes to bringing down acid levels in the mouth, especially following a meal.

But cheese packs other powerful tooth decay fighting properties. It contains a protein called casein that strengthens tooth enamel, as well as calcium and vitamin D which are important for strong teeth. Its high protein level will help keep your child satisfied between meals so they will be less likely to crave other foods that can harm their teeth.

7. Have Them Chew a Crunchy Fruit or Veggie

Crunchy, fresh fruits and veggies such as apples, carrots, and celery are not only healthy for growing bodies but tooth-friendly as well. These fibrous snacks actually help scrub plaque away from teeth when your child chews them. Pair them with a piece of cheese for an even healthier tooth decay fighting snack.

8. Give Them Water Instead of Soda and Fruit Juice

Limit your child’s intake of soda and fruit juice as they’re packed with sugar. Give your child water to help them keep hydrated and protect their teeth. Water also helps wash away food debris and prevent the mouth from drying out.

How to Keep Children’s Teeth Clean

Knowing how to keep children’s teeth clean, especially in between brushing, will help your child avoid the cavity creeps and give them a sparkling smile for life. Kids also love following their parents’ lead, so you can set a good example for them by implementing these healthy habits for yourself.

If you’re looking for a pediatric dentist for your child, schedule an appointment with us. Our caring, gentle staff looks forward to helping your child’s smile shine!