For Parents

You can protect your child's teeth from tooth decay.

Tooth decay continues to be a problem for many children and adults. Tooth decay is caused by a disease called dental caries that occurs when certain bacteria in the mouth combine with sugar that we eat or drink to produce acids that dissolve minerals (calcium, phosphate) from the outer layers of our teeth. If enough minerals are lost, the tooth structure breaks down producing a "cavity" or hole in a tooth.

For most children, teeth can be protected from decay by twice daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste, limiting the amount of snacks, beverages and chewing gum containing sugar between meals, and having regular dental check-ups and preventive services (e.g., sealants and fluoride treatments). However, some children remain at high risk to develop tooth decay because of an imbalance between factors that promote dental caries and factors that protect teeth from decay.

The questions in this guide will help identify things that may place your child at higher risk for developing tooth decay. Please answer all the questions and be honest — remember, you can't fool the Tooth Fairy!

Understanding your child's risk factors can help us take steps to reduce his or her risk for tooth decay and keep his or her teeth healthy and looking good for a lifetime! There is no passing grade or formula that can predict exactly who will get tooth decay and who will not. However, more risk factors generally mean higher risk for developing decay. Likewise, more protective factors generally mean a lower risk for developing decay.

Questions 1 through 8 and 15 through 17: Factors that can help increase your child's risk for developing tooth decay. A "Yes" response to any of these questions means you may need to take action to lower your child's decay risk. These same factors generally increase your risk for decay, too!

Questions 9 through 14: Factors that can help reduce your child's risk for tooth decay or help protect his or her teeth. A "No" response to any of these questions means that you may need to take action to lower your child's decay risk or increase his or her protective factors. These same protective factors generally can help lower your risk for decay, too!