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6 dental habits that can be bad for your children’s teeth

Your kids’ oral health is important. Here are some things you can do to help them keep their mouth healthy and happy.

Teaching your children good dental habits sets children up for healthy teeth and gums. And that helps children eat properly and speak clearly.

Healthy baby teeth also help to guide the development of a child’s jaw. It can prepare a child’s mouth for the adult teeth that eventually need to come in.

Some of the most common dental problems in children, such as cavities, are preventable, says Amber Bonnaig, D.D.S. She is a pediatric dentist and dental director for DentaQuest in Georgia. These problems can be prevented, she says, by undoing the bad habits that helped to create them.

Below, learn 6 common habits that may be causing everything from cavities to developmental problems in your child’s mouth.

Need a dental plan for your whole family? Explore your insurance options now, or contact a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.

Bad habit #1: Your kid is eating and drinking sugary foods.

Eating sugary foods and drinks throughout the day can increase your child’s risk of developing tooth decay and cavities. That’s because when a child eats or drinks sugary products, bacteria that cause cavities break down the sugar, creating acid.

This acid can wear away tooth enamel. The longer this acid remains on the teeth, the greater your child’s risk of developing tooth decay.

Making sure your kids brush their teeth after eating or drinking sugary drinks and snacks can help. They can also swish their mouth with water, too. But the best way to reduce your child’s risk is to have them eat regular meals and limit snacking.

“My advice to parents is to limit sugary snacks and drinks as much as possible,” she says. “And try switching to water before bed.”

Bad habit #2: Your kid is thumb-sucking, nail-biting or using a pacifier.

“Prolonged use of a pacifier and thumb-sucking can impact your child’s oral development,” says Dr. Bonnaig. “But the effects on teeth and the palate, or roof of the mouth, depend on the frequency and level of suction.”

In fact, children who use a pacifier or suck their thumb past the age of 18 months are at risk of developing problems such as protruding front teeth and bite problems. This also increases the chances that your child will need orthodontic treatments in the future.

“To help stop this behavior, offer your little one an alternative way to relax, like giving them a stuffed animal or a bath,” says Dr. Bonnaig. Other good options include teethers that kids can chew on rather than suck, she says.

You may also want to talk to your dentist about options to help your child stop biting their nails. These include unpleasant-tasting coatings you paint on their nails to stop them from putting their nails in their mouth.

Bad habit #3: Your kid is grinding their teeth.

Teeth grinding (bruxism) is when children unknowingly grind, gnash or clench their teeth. Over time, this bad habit may cause the enamel on the teeth to become worn down or chipped. This may trigger tooth sensitivity, jaw pain and headaches. Kids may grind their teeth for various reasons. These include:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Improper tooth alignment
  • Pain from conditions such as an earache or teething

“Talk to your dentist if you notice your child has symptoms of grinding their teeth,” Dr. Bonnaig says. “These include increased mouth sensitivity, jaw pain or morning headaches.” Also a telltale sign: Your child makes grinding noises during the night or while napping.

“Your child’s dentist may recommend a night guard or splint to protect their teeth while sleeping,” says Dr. Bonnaig.

Another way to get dental insurance? Enter your ZIP code to search available plans, or call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.

Bad habit #4: Your kid isn’t brushing their teeth correctly or flossing.

Common mistakes kids make when brushing their teeth include:

  • Brushing too hard
  • Not brushing for long enough
  • Not holding the toothbrush correctly

When teaching your child how to brush their teeth, encourage them to brush twice a day for 2 minutes. Technique is also important. Dentists recommend placing the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle. Then have your child gently brush a small group of teeth in a circular motion, gradually covering the entire mouth and even the tongue.

It’s also important for your children to learn how to floss. This cleans the sides of their teeth where the toothbrush can’t reach. Before the age of 10, you may need to help your child floss. Using floss picks designed for children can make flossing fun. It can also give children reach, grip and control that may be hard with ordinary dental floss.

Bad habit #5: Your kid doesn’t brush their teeth at all.

If your children fall into the category above, that’s something that can be reversed. But if they’re not brushing their teeth at all, it could lead to major oral health issues.

Children may view brushing their teeth as a chore. But a regular routine is one of the best things they can do to avoid tooth decay and cavities.

One way to encourage your child to brush is by adding elements of fun to their routine. “Try creating games about brushing. You can also try brushing together. Or encourage them to brush for 2 minutes to the beat of their favorite song,” Dr. Bonnaig says. “It can also be motivating for children to choose their own toothbrush and toothpaste.”

Using an electric toothbrush may also make brushing a fun experience for children, says Dr. Bonnaig. “Children often find electric toothbrushes much easier and more comfortable to use,” she says.

Bad habit #6: Your kid doesn’t see their dentist regularly.

Ensuring that your child has regular preventive dental care with a pediatric dentist can help you catch and treat tooth decay before it progresses. If your child has untreated cavities, they can cause pain and infections that can lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing and learning.

It’s a good idea for your child to see a dentist by their first birthday, followed by visits every 6 months. At this initial visit, the dentist will examine your child’s gums and any teeth that have come in, as well as your child’s bite. They’ll also explain proper children’s dental care for all your child’s ages and stages.

Dental visits throughout childhood will include an exam of the teeth, gums and bite, as well as a dental cleaning. These visits also serve another purpose. They help children feel comfortable at the dentist. And they help them get used to visiting the dentist as part of a healthy oral care routine.

At these visits, your dentist may recommend sealants. These thin, plastic coatings can be painted on to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth by your dentist. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sealants can reduce cavities in permanent molars by 80% for 2 years and continue to protect against 50% of cavities for up to 4 years.

If you have questions about dental insurance or whether sealants might be covered, you can browse dental insurance options, or call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730 to discuss them further.

Bottom line: Prevention is the best way to help kids keep their teeth and gums healthy. By recognizing bad habits early on and taking the steps to help reverse them, you can set your child up for healthy teeth — and a lifetime of good dental habits.


American Academy of Family Physicians. “Teeth grinding (bruxism).” September 2023. Retrieved from

American Association of Orthodontists. “Impact of pacifiers and thumb sucking on children’s teeth.” May 18, 2023. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Children’s oral health.” April 6, 2022. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Health and economic benefits of oral health interventions.” December 21, 2022. Retrieved from

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Brushing and toothpaste for children.” Retrieved from Accessed January 30, 2024

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Patient instructions: self-care: toothbrushing strategies young children.” February 28, 2023. Retrieved from

Head Start: Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center. “Understanding how sugar contributes to tooth decay.” April 26, 2023. Retrieved from

Head Start: Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center. “Understanding why baby teeth are important.” November 9, 2022. Retrieved from

University of Rochester Medical Center. “A child’s first dental visit fact sheet.” Retrieved from Accessed January 30, 2024

University of Washington Medicine. “Flossing and children.” August 1, 2023. Retrieved from,P01852

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