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The Tooth Fairy Should Bring Dental Floss

It's never too early to start solid dental care, researchers say

Parents should begin dental hygiene as soon as a baby's first teeth start coming in.

Research from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor suggests that dental care in early childhood pays dividends later with fewer cavities in adulthood. Poor diet and hygiene practices are sometimes established by the age of 3, dentists say.

It used to be that the health of deciduous teeth -- better known as "baby" teeth -- didn't get much attention. Since they eventually fall out, you only had to brush and floss the permanent teeth that you want to keep healthy for life. Right?

That was the common thinking. But the Michigan research suggests that poor diet and hygiene even as early as one year of age can translate into poor habits that last through into adulthood. KSL-TV in Salt Lake City describes the study.

Some practices, like improper bottle feeding, can lead to cavities for babies. Most dentists advise parents never to put a baby to sleep with a bottle. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that babies should be taken for their first dental exam at 12 months of age, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends regular dental visits beginning at age 3, assuming the teeth are coming in properly and appear healthy.

Parents should be aware that a large variation exists in the emergence of a baby's first teeth. Many kids begin teething at six months of age, but it's not unusual for others to start after their first birthday. In the first of three health briefs from The Times of London, Dr. Jane Collins, medical director of Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, says parents should take a child to a dentist if teeth haven't appeared by age 2.

This HealthScout feature reprints advice from the U.S. National Institutes of Health on dental care for infants.

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