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The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends parents take their child to a pediatric dentist within six months after the baby’s first tooth appears, but no later than the child’s first birthday.

If that seems early, consider this: Tooth decay is the single most chronic health problem suffered by children and, if left untreated, can destroy the child’s teeth and have a strong, lasting effect on a child’s overall general health. Tooth decay can be caused by bacteria which interacts with carbohydrates in the diet, producing acids that result in mineral loss from teeth. that’s why it’s important to follow these guidelines at an early age:

  • Wipe infant’s gums with a clean, wet gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding.
  • Begin brushing infant’s teeth as soon as first tooth appears twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste and a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush. Parents should use a ‘smear’ of toothpaste to brush the teeth of a child less than two years of age.
  • Twice-daily use has benefits greater than once-daily brushing.
  • Do not nurse or breast feed for prolonged periods.
  • Infants should not be put to sleep with a bottle of milk, formula, sugar water, or fruit juice.
  • If an infant falls asleep while feeding, the teeth should be cleaned before placing the child in bed.

As your child gets older, you’ll want to encourage them to drink from a cup by their first birthday. This means moving from the “sippy” cup, which is meant only as a transition from the bottle to a real cup. Be wary of what you put in a sippy cup. Only use water, except maybe during meals. Allowing a child to drink from a sippy cup filled with juice or milk throughout the day continuously bathes the child’s teeth in cavity-causing bacteria.

Dental health habits develop at an early age. Parents should use a dab of toothpaste and perform or supervise a toddler’s toothbrushing. Teach them how to brush, and to spit out – not swallow – the toothpaste. Help them develop good eating habits early on and choose sensible, nutritious snacks.

By being proactive about your child’s teeth will help avoid painful – and potentially costly – dental health problems later.

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