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Things Parents Can Do for Dental Health in Toddlers & Infants

Treating your little one's pearly whites with care keeps toothaches at bay, and may prevent delays in speech and oral motor skills. Visiting the dentist once chompers emerge can boost your confidence in caring for tiny teeth at home.

"Every six months your dentist will guide you in oral habits, growth and development issues," says Dr. Lee Weinstein, a pediatric dentist and the dental director for the state of Arizona Medicaid programs. "It is true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Although many of the youngest dental patients can't sit through long exams and cleanings, your early consultations will be full of valuable information on how you can start good dental habits from the get-go.

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It's Never too Early to Brush

Older babies and toddlers tend to resent being slowed down to comply with tooth brushing. Get your baby in the habit of saying "Ah," by starting twice-daily gum cleanings from birth.

"Brushing or wiping the gums gets your child used to the sensation of brushing, and makes it easier to create good dental habits," Weinstein says.

Use a small, soft infant toothbrush dipped in water, or wipe the gums with a clean, damp wash cloth. Once the first tooth makes its appearance, switch to a toothbrush topped with a small smear of fluoridated paste designed for children.

Diet Duty

Munching on cookies, cakes and candy may be your child's favorite thing about his new teeth. But keeping sweet treats to a minimum helps keep your child's teeth and gums clean. Plus, treats taste so much better when they're dispensed on a limited basis.

Don't forget to watch what your child drinks. If your child has been given the OK by her pediatrician to be weaned off breast milk or formula, try to stick with milk or water as often as possible during the day, and only give water at night.

"The sugar content of some foods and drinks will amaze you. Go with natural fruit as opposed to fruit juices, which can contain up to 27 grams of sugar for one serving," Weinstein says.

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Know Your Water

Water doesn't pamper little teeth as much if it isn't treated with fluoride. Your child's dentist should be able to find out the fluoride content of your local water supply. If it isn't sufficient, supplements can help keep your little one's teeth in top shape. Skip bottled water unless the product has added fluoride or your child is on supplements.

Feel Free to Floss

Although dental floss isn't usually marketed to infants and toddlers the way toothbrushes and toothpaste are, flossing isn't an "adults only" activity.

"If your child's teeth touch each other, get in and floss," Weinstein says. "Flossing will remove plaque from between teeth where a toothbrush can't reach."

Prevent flossing from turning into a wrestling match by singing songs or reading stories with your toddler as you floss her teeth. Your child is more likely to adapt to flossing if you do it early and often.

Let Old Habits Die

One of the reasons it's important to chat with a dentist early on is to get extra help assessing your child's readiness to ditch pacifiers, bottles and sippy cups. If used out of habit rather than necessity, these products can promote tooth decay.

Transitional steps, such as replacing sippy cups with open cups during meals or filling a bedtime bottle with water instead of milk, can help your child ease out of these comforts. The timeline should be determined by you, your child's pediatrician and your child's dentist.

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