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How Can I Prevent My Child From Getting Cavities? [SP]

Dr. Leona Kotlyar, our group's expert board certified pediatric dentist, gives us tips about cavity prevention in children
cavity prevention strategies in children

One of the Most Common Questions Asked:  How Can I Prevent My Child From Getting Cavities?


Brushing is the most important way of preventing cavities. Proper brushing can remove plaque and caries causing bacteria from the exterior surfaces of a tooth. When teaching children to brush, place toothbrush at a 45 degree angle and start brushing along the gum line. Remember to use a soft bristle brush in a gentle circular motion. 

With dental decay being one of the most significant childhood diseases, it is extremely important to start caring for your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth erupts. The very first tooth is subject to a plaque biofilm that contains potentially harmful and caries causing bacteria. It must therefore be cleaned in order to avoid possible caries. This type of care is very elementary and simple and can be achieved by using wet gauze or specialized xylitol tooth wipes. 

As the child ages and more teeth erupt (closer to age 2) a pea sized amount of fluoride free toothpaste can be used to brush your child’s teeth. By age 4 or 5, children should be able to brush with fluoride toothpaste if desired, twice a day with supervision until about age 7 to make sure they are doing a thorough job and not missing any areas. Remember that each child’s abilities and dexterity is different so keep that in mind when supervision ceases. Your dentist can help you to determine whether the child has the skill level to brush properly on their own or still needs some extra help.


Flossing is very important as well once the teeth are touching (no more space in between the back molars – by 4/5 years old). This will remove plaque and bacteria between the teeth, where the bristles of a toothbrush can’t reach. Use a gentle, back-and-forth motion to guide the floss between the teeth. Children’s floss picks are the easiest to use. This should be supervised until about the age of 9/10 when a child can floss by themselves. 


Aside from brushing and flossing, it is also important to teach your children healthy eating habits as well as maintaining a balanced diet. Try limiting sugary drinks like soda and large amounts of juice that can potentially lead to tooth decay. For example, a child aged 4-6 years old should only consume about 4-6 oz of juice per day. Make sure the snacks that are available for your children are nutritious and not just empty calories.

Even though most sugary snacks that children eat can lead to cavity formation, its important to note with which frequency a child is consuming the snacks. The more that a child had in between meal snacks, the greater the chance for tooth decay. How long food remains in the mouth also plays a role. If your child must snack, choose nutritious foods such as vegetables and fruits, yogurt, and cheese, which are healthier and better for children’s teeth.


In addition to good oral hygiene and healthy eating habits, parents should take their child to the dentist every 6 months for regular checkups as recommend by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.  

The dentist can make sure to keep your child updated on how to properly take care of their teeth as well as make sure there are no cavities or other oral problems.


A dental sealant is a thin clear/white liquid material that is flowed into the pits and fissures (grooves, located on the chewing surface) of the permanent molars. They act as a protective coating to prevent food and bacteria from traveling deep into the groove. The bristles of a toothbrush are not able to cleanse deep into the groove due to their size. Therefore, over time, this accumulation of bacteria may cause staining as well as a possible cavity formation in those pits and grooves.

Sealants are completely painless and require absolutely no dental anesthesia. If placed correctly they can last at least 3 years. They are also the number one way in which dental decay on molars can be prevented.

Your dentist may recommend placing sealants on other teeth in your child's mouth if those teeth exhibit deep grooves as well and are deemed to be at risk.

Current innovations in sealants have been noted to now be formulated without BPA (Bisphenol A). Bisphenol A is a synthetic compound that is found in many plastics and resin materials. An FDA report n 2010 found is to be potentially harmful to infants and young children. As such it is not used in baby bottles or infant products that require plastic packaging. 

Those sealant materials which contain BPA, must be vigorously cleaned off with a pumice like material since most of the BPA exudes to the surface minutes after the material is cured on with the UV light. Therefore, make sure your dentist is using a BPA-free sealant material. 

Overall sealants are safe and provide a major protective factor for your child. Ask your dentist if your child is a candidate for sealants. 


Fluoride is one of the most controversial yet beneficial elements in dental care. However, too little or too much fluoride can be detrimental to the teeth. Little or no fluoride will not strengthen the teeth to help them resist cavities and excessive fluoride ingestion by children can lead to dental fluorosis, which is a chalky white or brown discoloration of the permanent teeth. Therefore, it is very important to note all potential sources of fluoride to help parents so that the child does not become at risk of fluorosis. 

Some of these fluoride sources include but are not limited to:

  • Excessive fluoridated toothpaste before a child can properly expectorate
  • The inappropriate use of fluoride supplements to children under 6 months of age or prior to considering other sources of fluoride
  • Child diet: water, certain juices and teas as well as dry foods and cereals may contain fluoride
  • Powder formula mixed with fluoridated water

The best way to determine whether your child is getting enough fluoride is to have your child’s dentist evaluate the primary source of water as well as diet for the child. If your child is not getting enough fluoride through drinking water, then your pediatric dentist may prescribe fluoride supplements or recommend an at home fluoride rinse as well as professional in-office fluoride treatments.

Leona Kotlyar, D.D.S.

Board Certified Pediatric Dentist
Pediatric Dental Clinic Attending, Staten Island University Hospital
7815  5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11209
(718) 745-4422

email:   DrLeonaKotlyar AT