Good dental hygiene should begin early
Toddlers need only a small amount of toothpaste to get the job done. (Fotolia.com / January 15, 2013)
Many patients ask me when their child should begin seeing a dentist. The answer is not always clear. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child see the dentist by 1 year of age, while the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests waiting until a child's birthday (unless they have risk factors for having problems with their teeth).
In my practice, I start talking about dental hygiene from infancy when I discuss fluoride and encourage parents to use tap water when making formula (most cities have fluoride added to their water, but you should check) or to dilute juice (if they give their baby any juice at all).
When the baby's first teeth come in, parents can wipe them off with a soft washcloth. Never leave a bottle in a baby's crib or nurse a child throughout the night, as this may lead to early cavities in the first teeth.
I recommend getting a child a toothbrush at 12-15 months and letting the toddler begin brushing his/her own teeth by mimicking the parents or siblings. Dab on a smidgen of toothpaste with fluoride, but don't let your child just "eat" big globs of toothpaste because they like it. Too much fluoride can also be a problem. (You can buy fluoride-free toothpaste if you are concerned.)
Pediatric dentists encourage parents to floss their children's teeth in the early years.
Many dentists will do what's called a "lap visit" for the first few appointments, during which they let the mother or father hold a 1- or 2-year-old and the dentist gets the child comfortable by opening his/her mouth or having the child look at the dental instruments. For most kids, their first cleaning is done at their 3-year-old visit. Dental checkups are then scheduled every 6 months.
Due to good dental hygiene, many of my patients are cavity free even as they enter their teen years! I wish I could have said the same thing for myself.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)