Cavities (also known as caries or tooth decay) are one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood in the United States. Untreated cavities can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t.
- About 1 of 5 (20%) children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.1
- 1 of 7 (13%) adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.1
- Children aged 5 to 19 years from low-income families are twice as likely (25%) to have cavities, compared with children from higher-income households (11%).1
The good news is that cavities are preventable. Fluoride varnish can prevent about one-third (33%) of cavities in the primary (baby) teeth.2 Children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer cavities than children whose water is not fluoridated.3 Similarly, children who brush daily with fluoride toothpaste will have fewer cavities.4
Dental sealants can also prevent cavities for many years. Applying dental sealants to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth prevent 80% of cavities.5
What Parents and Caregivers Can Do
Wipe gums twice a day with a soft, clean cloth in the morning after the first feeding and right before bed to wipe away bacteria and sugars that can cause cavities.
When teeth come in, start brushing twice a day with a soft, small‑bristled toothbrush and plain water.
Visit the dentist by your baby’s first birthday to spot signs of problems early.
Talk to your dentist or doctor about putting fluoride varnish on your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears.
For children younger than 2, consult first with your doctor or dentist regarding the use of fluoride toothpaste.
Brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
Drink tap water that contains fluoride.
Ask your child’s dentist to apply dental sealants when appropriate.
If your child is younger than 6, watch them brush.
Make sure they use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and always spit it out rather than swallow. Help your child brush until they have good brushing skills.
Good Dental Health Is Important for Pregnant Women
When you’re pregnant, you may be more prone to gum disease and cavities, which can affect your baby’s health. Follow these 3 steps to protect your teeth:
See a dentist (it’s safe!) before you deliver
Brush twice a day
If you have nausea, rinse your mouth with 1 teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water after you get sick. This helps wash stomach acid away and keep your tooth enamel safe.
Infant Oral Health Information
Oral Health and Learning