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The best time to start protecting your child’s teeth is before you can even see them.

Camille Horton, a pediatric dentist at Issaqueena Pediatric Dentistry, said children need a dental home and their first dental by their first birthday or earlier, if they already have a tooth. Much of that first appointment involves getting the child used to a dental visit and letting the parents know what to expect as their child’s teeth come through.

One of the first dental care activities parents can do with their child is wiping the gums, palate and tongue with a wet washcloth. Horton said dental wipes are also available for this purpose.

“It’s soothing for teething,” she said.

It also cleans the baby’s mouth and has the added bonus of getting the baby used to the activity in the mouth.

“Our primary goal is to keep children cavity-free,” Horton said.

Horton advises parents that sharing utensils, drinking after each other and kissing baby on the mouth can transmit bacteria that can lead to cavities. She also addresses feeding habits when she talks with parents.

“If you put your baby to bed with a bottle, that liquid can sit on the teeth and cause cavities,” she said. “We ask a lot about habits. How can we help you through those times? What can we do to help the family transition out of going to bed with a bottle?”

For teething babies, Horton recommends a cold chewing ring.

“We discourage using oral anesthetics because they are medications you can’t quantify well,” she said.

Sometimes squirmy little ones can be challenging when it comes to brushing teeth. Horton said parents might need to get creative. Your child’s dentist can help with ideas.

“A 1 ½-year-old is probably not going to sit still in front of a mirror,” she said.

Instead, parents might consider lying their child down and brushing the teeth while the child is still wrapped in their towel from bath time.

Dental care is something that can and should be just part of the routine for kids.

“It is a learned habit,” Horton said.

A new survey from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry reveals that 74 percent of U.S. parents do not take their child to the dentist by their first birthday, the age recommended by AAPD. Despite eventually falling out, preventing tooth decay in baby teeth can help stop cavities and decay in permanent teeth. The survey reveals parents have a mixed understanding of what ‘healthy’ foods for kids’ teeth may include. Nearly half (49 percent) believe pureed fruit pouches are a healthy snack choice and 39 percent think granola bars are healthy for kids’ teeth. On the contrary, pureed fruit and granola bars have concentrated sugars and stick to the grooves on kids’ teeth, giving bacteria plenty of time to do damage.

Learn more at www.aapd.org.

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