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Get Early Start on Kids' Dental Care

The time to begin is before the first teeth come in, expert says

TUESDAY, Aug. 13, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- It's never too soon to begin your children's dental care.

Start looking after their teeth before the first tooth arrives. That's because, by the time you notice decay on your children's teeth, it may be too late, says pediatric dentist Leo D. Morton, of Advocate Lutheran General Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

Morton offers some suggestions on how to ensure good dental health in children. Expectant mothers need to eat a well-balanced diet. Parents can begin oral hygiene in an infant's first few months.

"Use gauze or a soft cloth with water to clean the gum tissues before the teeth have erupted. Gently wipe and massage the gums after feeding and right before bed," Morton says.

This early massaging and cleaning will help with teething, and will get your child used to regular oral hygiene and possibly create a healthy habit for life.

Start using a small baby toothbrush as teeth erupt, Morton says. Use a "baby toothpaste" that doesn't contain fluoride. Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, and begin to floss your child's teeth.

A condition called nursing bottle mouth can be caused by improper feeding methods. Sugar in formulas and juices can mix with plaque, causing the formation of acid that attacks tooth enamel. This acid will attack the teeth within 20 minutes of feeding if you don't clean your children's teeth immediately.

"Never allow your infant to fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth," Morton says.

He explains that when babies sleep, there's reduced saliva flow in their mouths. That makes it easier for sugary liquids to pool around the teeth.

"I've seen children who have extensive decay from the bottle that requires full mouth rehabilitation," Morton says.

He suggests you fill the feeding bottle with water or use a clean orthodontic pacifier if your child needs the comfort.

Here are some other suggestions:

  • Pacifiers are OK until the age of 2 or 3. That habit is easier to break than thumb sucking.
  • When your baby starts to stand and/or walk, be alert for any dental injuries she may suffer when she falls. Dental trauma requires immediate attention.
  • Make routine visits to the dentist. Your child's first visit should take place before her first birthday, followed by a visit every six months.

More information

When they're old enough, your kids may enjoy this explanation of a cavity.

SOURCE: Advocate Lutheran General Children's Hospital, news release, August 2002
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