Teaching Children Good Dental Habits and How to Protect Restorations

Young children can develop cavities (caries) in their baby teeth under a variety of circumstances. Decay can be caused by lengthy bottle use during naps or overnight that results in milk or juice pooling around the teeth for a prolonged time, drinking or eating sugary foods, lack of oral hygiene care, certain medications, heredity, and limited to no fluoride exposure. A tooth with multiple or large fillings may weaken and break apart, leaving inadequate tooth structure to support another filling type of restoration. In these cases, the dentist will provide a pediatric stainless-steel, ceramic, (or zirconia crown) made especially for children to protect any remaining tooth and the root until permanent teeth erupt.

How to keep decay at bay

Children should brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Parents must supervise and perhaps manually help kids under the age of 6 with brushing until they have mastered the technique. By age 2, children should learn to spit while brushing. From age 3 on, children should use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste until they have learned not to swallow it—without swishing with water as adults do.

It is important to provide drinking water that contains fluoride, whether in a bottle or a sippy cup, to help prevent decay. Your child’s dentist may recommend applying dental sealants, another preventive therapy. Some schools offer dental sealant programs to their young students, which may also be available through other local organizations in your area.

When possible, limit or avoid sugary foods, juices, and candy (especially sticky candy, gummy vitamins, and fruit leather), which can cause decay that erodes tooth enamel. If kids eat these or similar items, have them rinse with water or brush their teeth immediately afterwards. This is important when taking sweetened liquid medicines as well.

How to impress the importance of oral care upon children

When it comes to demonstrating good dental habits, lead by example. “Monkey see monkey do” applies to developing a good oral care regimen. Kids like to imitate their parents and siblings, so if everyone is brushing their teeth two times a day in the right way, they will follow suit. Especially if you make it look like fun. If you talk about what you’re doing while showing them how to make little circles on their teeth with the toothbrush and when and how to spit they will follow the leader and form the habit of doing a thorough job of it.

How to make it fun

What could be more fun than brushing your teeth with your mom or dad? Picking out your own toothbrush is a place to start. Kids toothbrushes come in the shapes of all kinds of cartoon and movie characters they will be familiar with. The same goes for toothpaste tubes. Let them pick one or more (why not change to a different character every week?!) and sing or recite character lines during the brushing session. Be sure to buy children’s toothpaste that contains fluoride.

You can also read books together about teeth and toothbrushing. Children’s books on teeth and about going to the dentist abound. Read books like The Tooth Book by Dr. Seuss, Brush! Brush! Brush!, The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist, My First Visit to the Dentist, and Sugarbug Doug: All About Cavities, Plaque, and Teeth, to help encourage them to brush correctly and prepare them for a visit to the dentist. Encourage them to ask questions about what to expect.

Let the dental games begin

Yes, there is such a thing! You can show your children how to brush their toys’ teeth and play age-related games with them (see sidebar for suggestions) that will get them interested in their teeth and used to the idea of going to the dentist. These toothbrushing games engage their imagination, help them focus on the task and make it fun while potentially avoiding meltdowns during the daily regimen.

How to care for restorations and crowns

Usually, dental restorations need to be cared for like natural teeth. Ceramic fillings may be susceptible to staining, and both ceramic and amalgam restorations are subject to further decay beneath and around them, especially if proper oral hygiene is not practiced.

In the event your child needs a crown, they can often be placed in one appointment. The process may involve some tooth preparation with drills and may or may not require local anesthesia. Afterwards the surrounding gums may be sensitive for a few days and may bleed when brushing, but the dentist will probably advise gentle toothbrushing twice a day and flossing as usual so the gum tissue remains clean and heals faster. If the tissue under the crown is not kept clean, it can become red and sore. If the child is under age 6, a parent should do the brushing during healing.

Even young dental patients should floss at least once a day. If a dental crown is present, slide the floss around the sides of the crown (in a C-shape). Avoid snapping or forcing the floss between teeth with crowns and the adjacent teeth because that may make the crown come loose or pop out.

After receiving a crown, children should not bite down hard on foods or chew hard objects, like ice, pens, tableware, or toys. Chewing only on the opposite side of the mouth from the crown location for a few days will help it stabilize. Sticky foods and treats that could pull crowns loose should be completely avoided. Also, talk to the dentist if your child is grinding their teeth, or plays sports to see if wearing a mouthguard is advisable.

Caring for stainless-steel, ceramic, or zirconia crowns is slightly different. Here are some additional guidelines:

Caring for stainless-steel crowns:

Avoid chew or sticky foods until the crowned tooth falls out, especially:

  • Chewing gum
  • Taffy
  • Caramel
  • Tootsie Rolls
  • Jolly Ranchers
  • Starburst
For tooth-colored crowns:
  • Avoid biting into hard foods (apples, carrots)
  • Do not use teeth as a tool to open bottles, jars, or any other objects
  • Avoid sticky candy such as suckers, taffy, Starburst, Tootsie Rolls, etc.

Consider using Cheng Crowns Zirconia pediatric crowns in young children. Their crimp lock feature enhances retention, and the interior surface is treated to further aid in durable, long-term retention. The inside of these crowns also has a larger cavity designed to minimize preparation time (and chair time) while maximizing function.



30 fun ways to teach kids about oral health. America’s ToothFairy. Available at https://www.americastoothfairy.org/news/30-fun-ways-to-teach-kids-about-oral-health. Accessed May 8, 2023.

Care for stainless-steel crowns. Alexandria Children’s Dentistry. Available at https://www.lovekidsteeth.com/post-operative-instructions#:~:text=The%20gums%20around%20the%20tooth,the%20area%20of%20the%20crown. Accessed May 11, 2023.

Children’s oral health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/childrens-oral-health/index.html. Accessed May 8, 2023.

Farthing M, Tepner A. How should I maintain my dental crown? Indianapolis Family Dentistry. Available at https://www.indianapolisfamilydentistry.com/blog/dental-crown-maintenance-tips-from-your-dentist-inindianapolis/#:~:text=Floss%20at%20least%20once%20daily,pulling%20can%20dislodge%20your%20crown. Accessed May 8, 2023.

How to teach your kids the importance of dental hygiene. July 14, 2021. Blue Island Smiles. Available at https://www.blueislandsmiles.com/blog/how-to-teach-your-kids-the-importance-of-dental-hygiene/. Accessed May 8, 2023.

Keeping your child’s teeth healthy. Nemours KidsHealth. Available at  https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/healthy.html. Accessed May 8, 2023.

Pediatric dental crowns. Dentistry for children. Available at https://www.dentistry4children.com/services/dental-crowns/#:~:text=How%20Long%20Does%20a%20Crown,fingernails)%20does%20play%20a%20role. Accessed May 11, 2023.

Postoperative care. Kids First Dental Group. Available at https://www.kidsfirstdentalgroup.com/copy-of-post-operative-care. Accessed May 11, 2023.

The best teeth games for kids. January 9, 2023. Colgate Global Scientific Communications. Available at https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/kids-oral-care/the-best-teeth-games-for-kids. Accessed May 8, 2023.


Games that teach children all about teeth and toothbrushing

Incorporate music into the routine
Play their favorite upbeat song for 2-3 minutes while brushing, sing a favorite nursery rhyme, or make up a toothbrushing song together.

Identify tooth-healthy vs unhealthy food: cut a “tooth” out of a white Styrofoam egg carton. Provide a list of healthy and unhealthy snacks for kids to choose from. Use a dry-erase marker to make a circle on the tooth for healthy foods and a permanent marker to indicate unhealthy foods. Then let kids attempt to brush away the food circles so they can see that the unhealthy foods can’t be brushed off.

Because eggshells are composed of calcium, they are similar to teeth. Use hard-boiled eggs to show children how fluoride and food acids impact teeth: place one egg in soda and one in water for 8 to 13 hours. Then rinse and notice how the soda-soaked egg feels softer. Repeat with milk, vinegar, and orange juice.

Activity sheets
Free activity sheets for kids are available from America’ s ToothFairy, including a brushing chart, a ToothFairy coloring sheet, flossing rewards card, food coloring sheet, brush floss rinse coloring sheet, facts about tooth decay, and oral care tips for the whole family in downloadable PDFs. The site also houses book lists, posters, game ideas, and numerous videos designed for children to watch and learn about oral hygiene care, cavities, bad breath, braces care, and tips for children with special needs.