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A common misconception is that having cavities in baby teeth is no big deal. Those teeth will be replaced with permanent teeth, right? No! Untreated cavities can cause serious harm and negatively affect how a young child’s mouth develops. Cavities can cause pain and infections that can lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Children with poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children with good oral health.

The good news? Cavities can be prevented. Early childhood educators should promote the habit of regular toothbrushing. In Caring for Our Children Standard, “All children with teeth should brush or have their teeth brushed with a soft toothbrush of age-appropriate size at least once during the hours the child is in childcare.” Children under the age of three years should use only a rice grain size of fluoride toothpaste. Older children should use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Children should brush their teeth for two minutes. An ideal time to brush teeth is after eating. The classroom teacher should monitor the toothbrushing activity of each child or brush a younger child’s teeth. There is a strong likelihood that the teacher will encounter the child’s oral fluids; therefore, it is important that the teacher wear disposable gloves and follow good hand hygiene protocol. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) halted toothbrushing in the early childcare setting. The CDC recently updated the guidance on toothbrushing in the childcare setting. Toothbrushing may resume if childcare programs can implement strategies to reduce the possibility of transmitting the virus to others via salivary droplets during brushing.

It is important to help young children develop healthy oral care habits. These healthy habits will set the stage for a healthy mouth for a lifetime. Not only is frequent toothbrushing with a fluoride toothpaste important, but regular dental checkups also promote good oral care. Encourage parents to schedule a visit with a dental professional within six months of the eruption of the first tooth. Routine and regular checkups will aid with keeping a healthy mouth and protecting teeth. 

A healthy diet also promotes a healthy mouth. Serve children a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in added sugars. It is very important to avoid serving sugary drinks to children. Encourage children to drink plenty of water during the day. Even babies can get tooth decay. Never allow an infant to have a bottle/sippy cup in the crib at naptime. The sugars in the formula, milk, or juice will slowly eat away at the tooth enamel. The teeth may then become pitted and discolored. Cavities may form as a result.