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Keep Your Child's Smile Healthy At Every Age

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month—has your child been to the dentist within the past six months? Seeing the dentist twice a year for preventive care is just as important to children’s health as seeing the doctor for an annual exam.

“The effects of poor oral health in children are far-reaching and include malnutrition, problems sleeping, difficulty concentrating in school due to pain and social interaction,” said Dr. Michael Mark, pediatric dentist with Community Health Center, Inc. “Oral health problems are also responsible for more missed school days than any other type of health problem. It’s important that parents help their children build healthy, life-long habits at an early age.”

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, tooth decay affects more than half of all children by third grade, and 80 percent will have tooth decay by the time they graduate high school. Follow these guidelines to keep kids’ smiles healthy, starting right after birth!

Birth to 1

Beginning at birth, clean your baby’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth wrapped around your finger and water. Once the first tooth appears (usually between 6 and 12 months of age), start brushing twice daily, using water and a soft, small toothbrush made for children.

Your child’s first visit to the pediatric dentist should also take place when the first tooth comes in. A popular rule of thumb: the first visit should take place by the first birthday. The dentist will be able to detect early childhood caries (decay or cavities).

To prevent caries, avoid sending your child to bed with a bottle containing fluids other than water. Limit fruit juices to snack time or water them down.

1 to 2

At 12 to 14 months, switch from a bottle to a sippy cup. Continue to brush teeth twice daily to begin building healthy habits.

2 to 5

Begin using a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste, and continue assisting your child in tooth-brushing. Once two teeth are touching, it’s time to begin flossing.

Most children between 2 and 4 will stop sucking on thumbs or pacifiers; however, some continue over long periods of time. In these children, the upper front teeth may not develop properly, and jaw growth and the bite could be compromised. If you’re worried about your child’s habits, talk to his or her dentist, who will keep careful watch of how the teeth and jaw are developing.

5 and beyond

Continue engaging children in brushing and flossing regularly. Just as they need a balanced diet for healthy growth, children need a diet of nutritious foods for the development of teeth and healthy gum tissue. Limit sugars and starches to avoid putting your child at extra risk for tooth decay.