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Although they’re just little people, young children lead active lives. And, their busy minds aren’t always focused on those good dental habits you try to instill early on. Until they get a grip on the importance of taking care of those precious pearly whites (even if they’re just baby teeth), here are some tips and suggestions that can help:

Start Brushing – Early and Often

Preventable tooth decay is one of the most common, chronic diseases in children and teens – according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than five and seven times more prevalent, respectively, than common ailments such as asthma and hay fever (Healy, 2014). And, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), by kindergarten, more than 40% of children have cavities or some tooth decay. The CDC reports,“42% of children ages 2 to 11 have had cavities in baby teeth; 21% ages 6 to 11 have had cavities in permanent teeth” (Healy, 2014).

Deciding when to start brushing your child’s teeth is easy – do it as soon as you see them start to emerge during the sometimes pesky, painful teething stage. Without delay, you should take your child to a dentist by his or her first birthday. Early care can help prevent costly and painful procedures. In fact, a recent Centers for Disease Control report found that for children who see a dentist by age five, parents’ dental care costs were nearly40% lower over a 5-year period.

Good Habits = Good Teeth

It may seem unnecessary when all you see are gums, but brushing is an essential habit from birth. Before those first babyteeth appear, parents can gently brush babies’ gums with water and a baby toothbrush, or a soft, clean washcloth or gauze. Says Baltimore pediatric dentist Warren Brill: “As soon as you have a tooth, you have the possibility of decay. We want to see kids as early as possible so we are sure the parents know the proper oral hygiene techniques for infants and toddlers…” (Healy, 2014).

Brush twice daily with a baby toothbrush and non-fluoride toothpaste when teething begins. Teach young children how to spit in preparation for fluoride toothpaste, and begin to use flosswhen pairs of touching teeth break through. Encourage them to avoid food or drink, except water, until the next morning.

Sugar & Sippy Cups: Do Away With Decay

Sugary liquids adhere to baby teeth, providing just the right environment for harmful, decay-feeding bacteria. According toDr. Brill: “We’re reaching epidemic proportions of a rapid form of tooth decay especially in young children. We’re seeing increases in the rate of what we call early childhood caries (ECC) or what used to be called ‘baby bottle tooth decay” (Healy, 2014).

In an effort to combat this preventable occurrence, parents should avoid putting children down for naps with juice, formula, or milk; if he or she must have a bottle at bedtime, make sure it contains only water. Sippy cups are great for helping transition babies and toddlers from a bottle to a cup. However, consistent sippy cup usage can lead to front tooth decay of the front teeth, especially when filled with sugary drinks.

Through their new education campaign to highlight the seriousness of dental decay, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that using pacifiers only through age 1 may help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but should be removed once that baby is asleep, as long-term use is shown to affect the bite or shape of a baby’s mouth (Healy, 2014)

Stand Tall on Teeth

Instilling good dental habits in children starts by standing firm and modeling through your own regular brushing and flossing. As with anything new or somewhat boring, children may resist forming their own, consistent dental routine. However, brushing, flossing, and rinsing should not be seen as a choice, but as a normal part of proper hygiene and good health.

Some challenges in this area are to be expected. Below are sometips to help parents get the job done:

•Be patient.   By  around  age  2 or 3 , most toddlers are ready to assist with brushing their teeth, but many children don’t get good at it until about age 6, according to dental professionals . Good technical skills such as flossing and using mouthwash may not come until the late elementary years.   Go slow, and stay the course.

•Don’t delay.  Brushing,  flossing , and rinsing are much easier tasks for a well rested, undistracted child. Build it in to his or her morning and night regimen.

•Offer choice .   Allow children ages 5 and  older  to weigh in when purchasing toothpaste, toothbrush, and floss in the store.

•Motivate.  Younger child ren are especially motivated by rewards such as stickers and kudos  on a  daily brushing  chart. Reward them with fun dental tools, i.e. toothbrushes and other items with their favorite animated characters.