Besides asking (okay, nagging!) your kid to brush for two minutes twice a day, what else can you do to help them prevent cavities? The answer: fluoride. Cavities occur when bacteria that feed on sugars in foods and beverages produce acid that attacks the enamel. It makes enamel stronger and more resistant to acid, and can even help reverse early decay.
Use fluoride toothpaste. A drop the size of a grain of rice is enough for kids younger than age 3; older kids need a pea-sized amount.
Check your water. Most water naturally contains some, but it usually isn’t enough to prevent cavities. That’s why many communities add fluoride to drinking water. The CDC says it can reduce tooth decay by about 25 percent. Call your water company to find out if your community participates. If not, ask your child’s dentist about other sources of fluoride, such as a rinse.
Know what you’re drinking. Check the labels on bottled water for fluoride. Bottled water products labeled as deionized, purified, demineralized or distilled contain trace amounts of fluoride or none at all.
Teach your kid to spit. Although it’s uncommon, dental fluorosis, which causes little white spots on the teeth as a result of too much fluoride, can occur before age 8 while teeth are forming below the gums.
—Arricca Elin SanSone is a New York-based health and lifestyle writer.