Pediatrician’s Corner – Keeping your Kids Mouth Healthy 

By: Dr. Dean Sidelinger, M.D., MPH, County of San Diego Child Health Medical Officer


The most common chronic disease in children might surprise you. It’s not asthma or hay fever.  Dental caries (also known as cavities) is the most common chronic disease in children.  It is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever. Four out of 10 children have dental caries by the time they reach kindergarten. Children with dental caries in their baby teeth are more likely to have dental caries in their adult teeth. The good news – dental cavities are preventable.

Women who are pregnant should take care of their teeth and visit a dentist. Once your baby is born, you can start taking care of his or her teeth – before they even have any. Never put your baby to bed with a bottle – even one with breast milk (which is the best first food for your baby). After your baby eats, use a soft, clean washcloth to wipe his or her gums.  

As soon as your baby has his or her first tooth – it is time to start brushing. For children under 3-years-old, use a smear of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice and brush their teeth twice a day. Your child also needs fluoride in his or her diet for healthy teeth. Fluoride is found in many foods and is added to drinking water in many places. Talk to your doctor about the water your child drinks. If it does not contain fluoride, your doctor may give you a prescription for fluoride drops or chewable tablets.  Make an appointment for your child to see the dentist by his or her first birthday or within six months of their first tooth. You can ask your doctor for help finding a dentist for your child if you do not have one

Children ages 3 to 6 should brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. You should put the toothpaste on the brush, and help them brush their teeth. Look for a toothbrush with a thicker handle – as that is often easier for a child to hold. The toothbrush should have soft bristles. Children should brush their teeth for two minutes. You can use a timer, or make it even more fun and sing a song! Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste when he or she is done brushing. Do not rinse his or her mouth with water or give him or her something to drink right after brushing his or her teeth.  

It’s never too early to think about oral health for your child – and incorporating brushing into your child’s daily routine is one way to keep his or her teeth healthy.  Make it a habit to brush his or her teeth every day after breakfast. Also, incorporate tooth brushing into bed time routines. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you think “brush, book, bed”:  

 Every night, help your children to brush their teeth.  
 After you are done brushing, read them a favorite book (or two).
 Put your child to bed at a regular time every night.  

These three steps help make sure you protect your child from cavities, help his or her learn, and make sure he or she gets a good night’s sleep.  

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, M.D., MPH, County of San Diego Child Health Medical Officer
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, M.D., MPH, County of San Diego Child Health Medical Officer











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