Helpful Tips for Healthy Teeth and Gums! African American Children under 5 at Increased Risk

Kris Perry, Executive Director First 5 California According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, nearly 50 percent of children have tooth decay before age 5. A 2008 study by the California HealthCare Foundation found that half of African American children age 5 and under have never visited a dentist, increasing their risk of cavities and other health problems. Because young children’s teeth are very important for eating and speaking clearly, helping them maintain a proper dental health care routine is key to their overall development.

First 5 California encourages parents and caregivers to begin taking care of children’s teeth and gums early on with the following helpful tips.


• Gently wipe your baby’s gums with a clean, wet cloth after each feeding.

• As soon as your child’s first tooth comes in, begin brushing every day.

• Brush your toddler’s teeth for him or her until he or she is 6 years old.

• Take your baby to the dentist by the time he or she is one-year-old, and twice a year after that for a check-up.

• Look for toothbrushes with soft bristles that are gentle on gums. To make brushing more fun, use a brightly colored toothbrush. Ask your child to roar like a tiger to help open his or her mouth wide!

• Ask a dentist or doctor if it’s okay to use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste once a child is 2 or 3 years old. Supervise and teach your child to spit out toothpaste and rinse after brushing.

• Floss teeth as soon as they grow and begin to touch each other — usually when a child is about 4 years old.

• Monitor what your child eats, as it can affect his or her dental health. Avoid candy and sugary drinks like soda that can cause cavities.

• Prevent tooth decay by not letting your child suck on a bottle or sippy cup filled with milk or juice for a long time. If he or she needs a bottle at bedtime, fill it with water.

• Take good care of your own teeth. Studies show that babies and small children can “catch” cavity-causing bacteria from their parents. By practicing good dental habits early in a child’s life and visiting the dentist regularly, parents can help keep children’s teeth healthy and their smiles sparkling! For more information about oral health care for children age 5 or younger, visit


About First 5 California First 5 California, also known as the California Children and Families Commission, was established after voters passed Proposition 10 in November 1998, adding a 50 cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes to fund education, health, child care and other programs for expectant parents and children up to age 5. For more information, please visit

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