Promoting good oral health early can help kids avoid cavities, dentist says

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and experts want families to take the time to teach, encourage and promote good habits for kids.

According to the American Dental Association, 78 percent of Americans have had at least one cavity by age 17. Dr. Leslie Rudolph, a pediatric dentist, explained on Good Day that modeling great habits and establish good oral health routines from the start is key. This includes consuming a healthy diet, brushing, flossing, and going to the dentist at an early age.

The benefits of an early dental visit are:
- Your family can establish a "dental home" for your child.
- Your child will become accustomed to the child-friendly environment at the dentist's office.
- Your pediatric dentist can discuss ways to prevent tooth decay, giving you the tools to stop cavities before they start.
- Cavities can form in baby teeth at any age; should your child develop cavities, early treatment will prevent potential infections, abscesses, and/or damage to the developing permanent teeth.

Cavities are a common chronic disease in childhood, according to the ADA and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Some tips to avoid include:
- Wipe your baby's gums with a damp cloth before any baby teeth come in
- It is recommended that you begin brushing your child’s teeth twice a day as soon as the first one comes in.
- Use a thin smear (the size of 1 grain of rice) of toothpaste with fluoride until your child is 2 years old.
- After your child turns 2, you should begin using a small dab (the size of a baby pea) of toothpaste with fluoride and encourage your child to spit after brushing.
- It is important to use the recommended amount of toothpaste with fluoride, as swallowing too much fluoride before the age of 8 years old may cause stains to form in the permanent teeth.
- Any toothpaste with fluoride and the American Dental Association seal of acceptance is fine to use; pick any flavor your child loves
- Any adjacent baby teeth that are touching are ready for flossing!
- Start early with good dietary habits
- Feed your child healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and protein.
- Help keep your child hydrated by giving him/her water to drink between meals.
- Give your child plenty of milk to drink to help build healthy bones and teeth.
- If you give your child soda or watered-down juice / sports drinks, use a regular drinking cup and please limit the amount to less than 6 oz per day.
- Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup.
- Teach your child to drink from a regular cup around his/her first birthday.
- Only put water in his/her sippy cup.

Children can typically learn to brush their teen on their own by age six. Flossing can be done on their own around age eight, says Dr. Rudolph. 

For more information, head over to the websites for American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.