Yes, brush those teeth!

Once those pearly whites emerge, it’s time to start taking care of them by brushing with a soft-bristled baby toothbrush, or by simply wiping them with a damp cloth or gauze. Even a clean finger can do the job. Don’t use fluoridated toothpaste at this stage, since it’s harmful for Baby to swallow the substance. (Once your child is old enough to learn to spit out, it’s fine.) Fluoride supplements are recommended for babies 6 months and up who aren’t getting it in their water supply. Fluoride is a mineral that helps prevent cavities, but if you get too much of it—as I did as a child—it can cause the teeth to have white spots. And don’t let baby fall asleep with a bottle, as milk or juice could collect in the mouth and cause decay.

When our son chipped a bottom tooth from a fall, we took him to a pediatric dentist, who taught us some tricks for brushing. We sing a song (ours is “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”) for the duration of the brushing. Another trick is to have a second toothbrush on hand so you can use the handle to keep the opposite side of the mouth from closing, thus creating the room you need to brush. Or try letting your toddler either start or finish the brushing session, while you make sure to “take over” long enough to get the job done thoroughly. Or let your child see you brushing until he or she wants to “copy” you. Older children may want to “name” the teeth being brushed, or recount the foods he ate that day that are now being brushed away. (Try to brush at least twice daily, but preferably after each meal.)

While children certainly must make their first visit to the dentist by age 2 or 3, more and more experts are recommending starting even earlier. The AAP in Your Baby’s First Year as well as the American Dental Association say children at higher risk of tooth decay should go in by age 1. They define high-risk as: Children whose mothers have cavities (which is pretty much everyone—go figure); children with special medical needs; children who breast- or bottle-feed in the night; and children with plaque buildup.

The worst foods for growing teeth are those that are chewy, sticky and stay on the teeth for some time, such as raisins, gummy candies—even “healthy” snacks such as raisins and dried fruits. Take care to brush well after enjoying treats like these. Also, refined sugars spell bad news for tooth enamel.
Our dentist advised us to floss, too. Oral-B makes kid-sized flossers with characters such as Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear.

Another safety tip: Once Baby has teeth, even just one or two, he or she can bite of pieces of food and even some toys, which could pose a choking hazard. Watch carefully.

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