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Commentary | Feb. 23, 2009

Baby teeth care helps establish good brushing habits

By Capt. (Dr.) Andrew Madson 1st Dental Squadron

There is nothing more precious than a child smiling with her first tooth. There are 20 primary teeth, or baby teeth, which sequentially appear on average between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. These baby teeth are as important as permanent adult teeth. Baby teeth help your child chew and speak as well as hold space in the jaw for permanent teeth. Baby teeth begin to fall out around the age of 6. The first of your child's permanent teeth, also called adult teeth, begin to appear at roughly the same time. 

Begin brushing your child's teeth with a little water as soon as the first tooth appears. At two years of age, use a pea sized amount of a fluoride toothpaste twice a day. By age 5, allow your child to begin brushing their own teeth. Supervise your child to ensure they are not swallowing the toothpaste and assist them in establishing thorough brushing habits. 

Teach your child to spit out remaining toothpaste and rinse with water after brushing. As soon as any two adjacent teeth touch, parents should use floss or an interdental cleaner. This is important because it cleans teeth where the toothbrush cannot reach. To maintain oral health while your child sleeps, your child should not eat or drink anything other than water after brushing her teeth before bed. 

The American Dental Association recommends that a child be seen by a dentist as soon as his or her first tooth erupts, but no later than the first birthday. This is a "well baby checkup" for the teeth. At this visit your dentist will demonstrate how to clean your child's teeth, and will identify and discuss any potential problems such as: thumb-sucking, baby bottle tooth decay, and teething irritations. 

Moreover, this first visit serves to familiarize your child to the dentist, the clinic staff, and the sounds associated with the dental environment. As your child gets older, manage any reaction to visiting the dentist by talking to them about the procedures performed and what to expect. 

Help your child maintain a healthy smile by ensuring proper oral hygiene and regular dental checkups. Getting on track to a healthy smile begins with the very first grin.