Turning good dental practices into habits very early can prevent cavities and many other problems.

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Turning good dental practices into habits very early can prevent cavities and many other problems down the road. “It’s all about making it a routine, which will last a lifetime,” says Dr. Miles Hall, chief dental officer at Cigna. Some tips:

Start early. As soon as a child’s first tooth appears, begin cleaning it with a brush and water — no toothpaste yet — and make a dental appointment.

Introduce toothpaste slowly. Kids usually are ready for toothpaste by age 2 or 3 years old. To keep them from swallowing large amounts, put a pea-sized bead of paste on the brush and squash it down into the bristles.

Let kids pick out their toothbrushes. Opting for a favorite color or cartoon character helps them feel in control.

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Make brushing fun. Put on some great music and do a little dancing as part of the nighttime brush-and-floss routine. Parents can brush at the same time so kids can imitate them.

Help with flossing. Kids don’t need to floss until gaps between their teeth have closed, but they likely won’t be coordinated enough to try it on their own until ages 6 to 8. Before that, it’s a parent’s job.

Expand the tooth fairy’s role. She doesn’t just need to bring money for lost teeth. She also might leave encouraging notes and little rewards for good brushing and flossing.

Limit sugary snacks. Emphasize regular meals and healthy snacks, but if kids do eat or drink something sugary, teach them to brush or rinse their mouths with water soon afterward.

Talk up the dentist. Don’t pass on your hatred of dental appointments or details on your fillings and root canals. Keep it positive: the dentist’s office is a fun place that helps kids stay healthy.