Don’t wait until baby teeth fall out to start worrying about dental care. Good habits start before teeth even come in.
AUSTIN, Texas — It’s never too early to start good dental habits.
Doctors Patrice Coons, clinical director of the St. David’s Foundation’s dental program, and Lisa Jacob, chief of pediatric dentistry at Dell Children’s Medical Center, both in Austin, offer this advice for how to keep baby teeth and eventual adult teeth healthy and strong:
Clean their mouths out
Before babies have teeth, take a wet washcloth and rub the gums.
Avoid baby-bottle tooth decay
Try to avoid having your baby fall asleep drinking a bottle or breast-feeding. (I know, it’s really hard, especially in those sleep-deprived first months.) Instead, rinse their mouths with water before they go to sleep.
Keep track of fevers and antibiotics and other medications
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You can help your pediatric dentist find problems early by alerting her of your child’s medical history. Because a lot of antibiotics and medications in liquid form are really sugary to taste good, rinse your child’s mouth with water afterward or brush their teeth.
See a dentist by age 1
The dentist will help you find the right oral-care regimen and detect potential problems.
Embrace the fluoride
Even young children can use toothpaste with fluoride in it. You are just going to use a small, pea-size amount until they can spit it out. Get regular fluoride treatments at the dentist, which can be either the fluoride tray or the more effective painted-on fluoride varnish. If your insurance will let you, put sealants on their teeth, especially those 6-year molars.
Limit the sugar and junk food
Your teeth are exposed to everything you eat and drink. Avoid sugary, sticky foods. (Fruit snacks send these dentists over the edge. Not a fruit, really a candy, they say.) Children should only have about 4 ounces to 6 ounces of juice a day. If you are going to have juice, it should be 100 percent juice and diluted with water. Chocolate milk is not a good choice because of the sugar. Regular milk is fine but should be chased with a glass of water or teeth brushing. Crystal Light is also OK, but diet sodas still have a lot of acid despite the lack of sugar. The best drink: water.
Create a brushing routine
Know that this isn’t something young children should be doing without adult supervision. A 3-year-old cannot really do a good job; even some older kids struggle. Brush the teeth at least twice a day, and yes, it’s true, you have to floss, too. Brush the teeth for at least two minutes, which is the equivalent of a favorite pop song. You can find all kinds of YouTube videos as well as toothpaste company websites to show them how to brush, but you also can have kids brush your teeth so they can see all the teeth in the back of the mouth that need attention.
Look for abnormalities
If you see signs of tooth decay such as discoloration or your child complains of pain that’s not regular teething, consult a dentist.