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How can I best care for my child’s teeth?

Good dental hygiene habits should begin before your child’s first tooth comes in. Wiping your baby’s gums with a soft damp cloth after feedings helps to prevent the buildup of bacteria. When teeth appear, start using a soft children’s toothbrush twice a day.
Once your child is preschool-age, start using fluoride toothpaste. Don’t cover the brush with toothpaste; a pea-sized amount is just right. Young children tend to swallow most of the toothpaste, and swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can cause permanent stains on their teeth.

What about using fluoride tablets?

Fluoride helps make teeth strong by hardening the tooth enamel. Many cities are required to add fluoride to tap water. If you live in an area where the tap water doesn’t contain fluoride, your doctor may prescribe daily fluoride tablets when your child is about 6 months old. Fluoride is an important part of your child’s dental health, but don’t give him or her more than the directions call for. If you miss a dose, don’t give your child extra fluoride to make up. Just as with swallowed toothpaste, too much oral fluoride can cause stains on your child’s teeth.

What are cavities?

Cavities are holes that are formed when bacteria (germs) in your mouth use the sugar in food to make acid. This acid eats away at the teeth. Cavities are common in children. Good tooth care can keep cavities from happening in your child.

Is my child at risk for cavities?

Cavities are holes that are formed when bacteria (germs) in your mouth use the sugar in food to make acid. This acid eats away at the teeth. Cavities are common in children. Good tooth care can keep cavities from happening in your child.

  • Was born early (prematurely) or weighed very little at birth (low birth weight)
  • Has ongoing special health care needs
  • Has white spots or brown areas on any teeth
  • Does not go to the dentist very often

How can I help stop cavities?

Everyone in your family should take good care of their teeth. Family members with lots of cavities can pass the cavity-causing bacteria to babies and children.
Teeth should be brushed at least twice a day and adults should floss once a day. Everyone should see the dentist twice a year. Have your doctor or dentist show you the right way to brush your child’s teeth

Does diet affect my child’s teeth?

Yes. Avoiding sweets, sticky foods and between-meal snacks is good advice. To avoid cavities, limit sweet snacks and drinks between meals. Have meals and snacks at regular times. Teeth-friendly snacks include foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
Baby bottles can create additional problems with your child’s dental health. When liquid from a bottle–like milk and juice–stays in contact with the teeth for a long time, the sugars cause tooth decay. This can create a condition called bottle mouth. Your baby’s teeth can develop cavities and become pitted or discolored. Never put a baby to bed with a bottle. Don’t let your child walk around during the day with a bottle, and teach your child to use a drinking cup around his or her first birthday.

Is thumb-sucking bad for my child?

It’s normal for children to suck their thumbs, their fingers or a pacifier. Most children give up this habit on their own by age 4, with no harm done to their teeth. If your child still has a sucking habit after age 4, tell your dentist. Your dentist can watch carefully for any problems as the teeth develop. In most children there is no reason to worry about a sucking habit until around age 6, when the permanent front teeth come in.

When should I start taking my child to the dentist?

The American Dental Association recommends that parents take their child to a dentist no later than his or her first birthday. This gives the dentist a chance to look for early problems with your child’s teeth. Pediatric dentists specialize in treating children’s dental health. You and your child’s dentist should review important information about diet, bottles, tooth brushing and fluoride use. Visiting the dentist from a young age will help your child become comfortable with his or her dentist. It also establishes the good habit of regular dental check-ups.


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Healthy teeth are important to your baby’s overall health. Teeth help your baby chew food and form words and sounds when speaking. They also affect the way your baby’s jaw grows.

When will my baby’s teeth appear?

Generally, teeth start appearing between 4 months and 7 months of age, but every baby is different. When your baby starts teething, you may notice that he or she will start to drool more or may want to chew on things. The first teeth to come in are usually the 2 bottom front teeth.

What can I do to help my teething baby?

Teething may be painless, but sometimes it can make babies uncomfortable and fussy. Teething does not cause a fever. Talk to your doctor if your baby has a fever. The following can help relieve your baby’s discomfort:

  • Give your baby a cold teething ring or a cold washcloth to chew or suck on
  • Rub your baby’s gum with a clean finger
  • Ask your doctor if you can give your baby infant’s acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol). Do not give your baby aspirin.

What about breastfeeding, bottles and sippy cups?

Teething does not have to interfere with breastfeeding. You can continue to breastfeed your baby as usual if he or she starts teething. If you give your baby a bottle, always hold the baby when you feed him or her. Do not leave a bottle in the crib. And do not let your baby fall asleep with a bottle. The milk can pool in your baby’s mouth and cause tooth decay.
For the same reason, do not give your baby a sippy cup of juice or milk in the crib. Your baby can start using a sippy cup when he or she is about 6 months of age. Stop giving your baby a bottle when he or she is 1 year of age. Do not let your baby walk around with a sippy cup unless it has only water in it.
After your child is 1 year of age, give him or her water or plain milk between meals instead of other drinks. If you give your child juice or flavored milk (like sweetened milk products), only give it with meals. Juice and flavored milk have a lot of sugar in them.

When should I start brushing my baby’s teeth?

Start cleaning your baby’s teeth twice a day as soon as the first tooth appears. Until your child is 1 year of age, you can use a wet washcloth or gauze to clean your baby’s teeth and gums. Start using a soft baby toothbrush and a small dab of toothpaste that does not have flouride in it when your baby is between 1 year and 18 months of age. (This type of toothpaste is safe for your baby to swallow.)

When should I take my baby to the dentist?

Be sure to take your baby to a dentist by his or her first birthday, especially if there is a high risk for cavities or any other problems with his or her teeth. It is better for your child to meet the dentist and see the office before he or she has a tooth problem

[fusion_tab title=”Nutrition: Healthy Eating for Kids” icon=””]

What is nutrition?

Nutrition refers to everything that your child eats and drinks. Your child’s body uses nutrients from food to function properly and stay healthy. Nutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. In the right amounts, nutrients give your child energy to grow, learn, and be active.
Calories are the amount of energy in the foods and drinks your child consumes. Children need a certain amount of calories to grow and develop. But if your child takes in more calories than his or her body needs, the extra calories will be stored as body fat.

Why is proper nutrition important?

Poor nutrition can cause health problems, overweight, and obesity. Some of the health problems associated with poor nutrition can be very serious, especially as your child grows into an adult. By teaching your child healthy eating habits, you can help prevent these health problems.
Also, it’s much easier to maintain a healthy weight than it is to lose weight. Children who maintain a healthy weight are more likely to stay at a healthy weight as adults.

Possible effects of overweight or obesity in children

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Some types of cancer
  • Depression
  • Being teased and bullied
  • Feeling bad about body
  • Feeling isolated and alone
  • Trouble learning
  • Trouble interacting with others

Benefits of good nutrition for children

  • Healthy weight for height
  • Mental well-being
  • Ability to learn and concentrate
  • Strong bones and muscles
  • Good energy level
  • Ability to fight off sickness and disease
  • Faster wound healing
  • Easier recovery from illness or injury
  • Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancers, and bone diseases in the future

What can I do to help my child make healthy choices about food?

By teaching and encouraging healthy eating habits, you are giving your child important tools for a lifetime of healthy living. The following are some ways you can help.
Offer healthy food options at home. Be sure you have healthy, appealing food options available for your family. Provide a variety of choices so your child can try different things. Be persistent in your efforts to introduce healthy food options. Children are not always open to new things right away. Specific ways to support good nutrition include the following:

  • Offer several fruit and vegetable options every day. At the store, let your child choose fruits and vegetables that he or she enjoys eating or wants to try.
  • Get frozen and canned fruits and vegetables if you can’t find fresh fruits and vegetables. Look for fruits that are canned in their own juices or light syrup instead of heavy syrup.
  • Provide healthy sources of protein, such as fish, eggs, nuts, and lean meats like chicken and turkey.
  • Serve whole-grain breads and cereals.
  • Broil, grill, or steam foods instead of frying them.
  • Offer low-fat milk, cheese, and other dairy products.
  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of water or milk instead of sugar-added drinks such as fruit juice,sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, regular-calorie soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened or flavored milk, or sweetened iced tea.

Limit fast food, takeout, and junk food. Avoid fried snacks. Opt for baked chips, pretzels, or unbuttered popcorn instead. If you do eat out or get takeout, avoid fried foods and choose the healthiest options available. For example, choose fruit instead of French fries or grilled chicken instead of a hamburger

Read food labels. The Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods and drinks lists useful information, such as the serving size, and the amount of calories and nutrients per serving. When reading labels, keep in mind that the ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. If you’re reading a cereal label, it would be best for the first ingredient to be a grain, not added sugar (for example, fructose or high-fructose corn syrup).

Is physical activity also important?

Proper nutrition and regular physical activity are the keys to maintaining a healthy weight and preventing health problems. Encourage your child to find physical activities he or she enjoys and get active. Aim for at least 1 hour of active play every day. Limit your child’s time using a TV, computer, cell phone, or game station to no more than 1 to 2 hours a day. Set a good example by limiting your own screen time, too. Physical activity should be part of your whole family’s lifestyle. Take a walk, go for a bike ride, or do chores together. Plan active family outings.

Can I really make a difference?

Yes! As a parent or primary caregiver, you have a lot of influence on your child. He or she will follow your example, so it’s important for you to be a good role model when it comes to making healthy choices. Even small changes in your family’s eating habits and physical activity can have a big impact on your child’s health.


[fusion_tab title=”Tips for Healthy Children and Families” icon=””]

For Children and Families

  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast. It refuels your body and gives you energy for the day.
  • Let kids help plan one meal each week and eat together as often as possible.
  • Eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full.
  • Eat more vegetables and fresh fruits. Aim for a total of 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day.
  • Eat more whole grains (e.g., oats, brown rice, rye, crackers, whole-wheat pasta). Try to eat at least 3 ounces of whole grains every day.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Choose water, low-fat or nonfat milk and low calorie or diet beverages.
  • Serve a variety of foods.

For Parents

  • Reward children with praise rather than with food.
  • Serve food in smaller portions. Do not demand or reward “a clean plate.” Let your child ask for more if he or she is still hungry.
  • Read nutrition labels for serving size and calorie information. The information on the labels can help you select foods that best fit into your family’s meal and snack plans.
  • Bake, broil or grill foods to reduce fat. Rather than cooking with butter or vegetable oil, try healthier versions like olive, canola or sunflower oil.
  • Snacks should provide nutrients and energy, which are essential for active, growing children.
  • Do not give your child vitamin supplements unless they are recommended by your doctor.
  • Children imitate their parents, so set a good example by eating healthy foods.
  • Keep a variety of snacks in the house, such as fresh fruit, vegetables, whole-grain cereals and crackers. Try lower calorie or lower fat foods, like baked chips, reduced-sugar cereals or low-fat dressings.

Being More Active

  • Move more. Try to get between 30 and 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Several 10 to 15 minute sessions of moderate activity each day add up.
  • Include regular physical activity into your daily routine. Walk as a family before or after meals.
  • Limit TV, computer and video game time to a total of one to two hours per day. Encourage physical activity instead.
  • Balance energy calories with activity calories. The energy you get from foods and beverages should equal the calories you burn in activity every day. Read our handout on daily calorie needs for more information.
  • Increase household activities (e.g., walking the dog, dusting, vacuuming, gardening). These activities are good ways to burn calories.
  • Include an activity like hiking or bike riding when you go on vacation.
  • Make playtime with your family more active by shooting hoops or walking to the park.

How Active Are You?

Moderate Physical Activity Vigorous Activity More Vigorous Activity
Walking Jogging Running
Treading water Swimming laps (light effort) Swimming laps (vigorous effort)
Bicycling (10 mph) Bicycling (12 mph) Bicycling (more than 14 mph)
Dancing Low impact aerobics Step aerobics
Doing yard work/gardening Mowing lawn with hand mower Digging a ditch
Hiking Playing doubles tennis Playing singles tennis
Vacuuming Moving furniture Playing basketball or soccer
Playing with childrentd>

Weight lifting In-line skating

Healthy Habits for Life

  • Write down what you eat: how much, when and why. For example, what do you eat when you’re stressed out? Learn more about keeping a food diary here.
  • Record your physical activity: how long, how often and how hard do you work out?
  • Eat only at the kitchen table. Don’t drive, watch television or talk on the phone while you eat. This helps you focus on how much you are eating, which can prevent overeating.
  • Put out your exercise clothes the night before as a reminder to walk or work out in the morning.
  • Set goals you can achieve. For example, aim for eating more vegetables and fewer high-calorie foods.
  • Don’t “up size” your favorite drink – 32 oz. of regular soda has up to 400 calories! Choose water or a diet drink instead.
  • Eat only until you’re not hungry and push the plate away. Don’t stuff yourself.
  • Eat only because you’re hungry, not because you’re bored, tired or stressed. Use alternatives to eating when you’re not hungry: take a walk, play a game, read a book or call a friend.


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How much should my child eat?

How much your child eats may be very different from how much another child eats. Don’t worry if it seems that your child doesn’t eat enough at one meal. Children often make up for a small meal or a missed meal at the next mealtime.
If your child has plenty of energy and is growing, he or she is most likely healthy. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about how your child is growing or if you are concerned that picky eating is slowing your child’s growth.

What if my child is a picky eater?

Many toddlers are picky eaters. Being picky about food is a normal behavior for many toddlers. There may be times when your child wants to eat a particular food again and again for a while, and then not want to eat it at all. Offer your child a variety of nutritious foods and let him or her choose what to eat. You may want to serve something you know your child likes along with another new nutritious food. But try to let your child explore new foods on his or her own. Don’t force your child to taste new foods. You may need to offer a new food several times before your child tries it.

You may need to be flexible with the meals you prepare to make sure your child gets a balanced diet. For example, if you’re making beef stew for dinner and your child will only eat potatoes and carrots, you may need to cook some of these vegetables separate from the stew so that your child will eat them.

You may want to make a list of foods that you know your child likes so you can make sure he or she eats a balanced diet. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Web site, ChooseMyPlate.gov, offers good information about nutrition for children and adults

Setting a good example for your child can also help. If your child sees you eating a variety of healthy foods, he or she will be more likely to give them a try.

How can I make sure my child is getting enough to eat?

Offer your child food that is tasty and looks good, and offer the right amount. A good rule of thumb is to offer 1 tablespoon of each kind of food for each year of your child’s age. If your child is still hungry, you can serve more. Don’t force your child to clean his or her plate. Once he or she is no longer hungry, your child should be allowed to stop eating.
Try not to bribe your child to eat (such as offering dessert as a reward). Threats or punishments aren’t good ideas, either. If your child doesn’t want to eat, accept his or her refusal. Even though you may be concerned, don’t show your child that you are upset by this refusal to eat. If your child is seeking attention, your disapproval fills that need, and he or she may try to gain your attention in the same way another time.

What about snacks?

Your child should have 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. Toddlers usually don’t eat enough in one meal to remain full until the next mealtime. Offer your child small, healthy snacks in between meals. Some examples of healthy snacks include low-fat string cheese, yogurt cups, apple slices or strawberry halves, slices of lean turkey or whole-grain crackers with peanut butter.

Try not to offer your child snacks close to mealtimes. If the next meal is several hours away, it’s okay to serve a snack. If the meal is in the next hour, avoid offering your child a snack. If your child comes to the table hungry, he or she is more likely to eat the meal.

If your child doesn’t eat at one mealtime, you can offer a nutritious snack a few hours later. If your child doesn’t eat the snack, offer food again at the next mealtime. A child will usually eat at the second meal. With this approach, you can be sure that your child won’t go hungry for too long or have other problems associated with a poor diet.

How can I make mealtimes easier?

You may want to try the following suggestions to make mealtimes easier and more enjoyable:

  • Give your child a heads up. Ten to 15 minutes before mealtime, tell your child that it will be time to eat soon. Children may be so tired or excited from play activities that they don’t feel like eating. Letting your child know that it is almost time for a meal will give him or her a chance to settle down before eating.
  • Establish a routine. Children are more comfortable with routines and predictability, so set regular mealtimes, have people use the same seats at the table or create a tradition to have each person talk about something fun or interesting that happened to them during the day.
  • Reserve mealtimes for eating and for spending quality time with your family. Don’t let your child play with toys during mealtimes. Reading books or watching television shouldn’t be allowed during mealtimes either. Explain to your child how good it is to eat together and ask him or her to stay at the table until everyone has eaten.
  • Make mealtimes pleasant. If mealtimes are pleasant, there is a good chance that your child will begin to look forward to eating with other family members. Try to avoid arguments during mealtime.
  • Manage your expectations. Don’t expect manners that are too difficult for your child. For example, don’t expect a child who is 3 years old to eat with the proper utensil. For many children, a spoon is much easier to handle than a fork.


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It is important to keep your child’s baby teeth clean, but once the permanent teeth start to come in you really need to make cleaning them a priority. These teeth will last your child for the rest of her life. Dentists generally recommend starting regular dental cleanings and examinations once the adult teeth grow in to make sure that they remain healthy and cavity-free. Talk to your dentist to find out when your child should come in for his first visit. Your dentist can help you know exactly how to care for your child’s permanent teeth so that you can end up teaching these skills to your child.

Encouraging Dental Health

You can encourage good dental health for your child by helping him choose healthy, low-sugar snacks instead of sweetened snacks, drinks, and candy. For example, give your child cheese and crackers with a glass of milk instead of giving him cookies and soda. Use gum sweetened with xylitol, which prevents cavities, instead of sugar, which promotes cavities.

Proper Permanent Teeth Care

Permanent teeth need regular cleaning and flossing, and dentists recommend this routine after every meal. When you start to take care of your child’s permanent teeth, you will need to brush and floss his teeth for him until he gets a little older. Use toothpaste and choose a toothbrush designed for children. A children’s toothbrush has softer bristles that will not hurt your child’s teeth and gums. Use children’s flossers with handles so that you can help teach your child how to floss his own teeth.