It's never too early to teach your child proper dental hygiene.
The Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall provided some useful advice on how to keep your child's teeth cavity-free and pearly white.
If your child doesn't have teeth yet, Marshall says you should get in the habit of gently cleaning your infant's gums with a damp washcloth or piece of gauze. Do it twice a day if you can.
Most kids grow out of pacifiers and thumb-sucking by the age of 4 or 5. Usually sucking behaviors don't cause dental problems in babies and young children. It becomes more of a problem, however, in older children when their permanent teeth start to come in.
Marshall says you should start to brush your child's teeth as soon as they appear. Most kids have a couple of teeth by 6 months of age. Some experts say you should begin brushing as soon as your child has four teeth. You should begin flossing between the teeth as soon as two are touching. Kids should be able to brush and floss on their own by the time they are 7 or 8 years old, although many children can't reliably floss their teeth on their own until early adolescence.
Marshall says kids should use a small, soft nylon-bristled toothbrush, which will be easy to use and will get the job done without doing any damage to the gums. It's also very important that you buy a small toothbrush that the child can easily fit into his or her mouth.
As long as your child regularly brushes his teeth, says Marshall, it really doesn't matter if you use a manual or electric toothbrush. Sometimes the fun of using an electric toothbrush will get your child to brush more often. But make sure that the toothbrush is child-sized.
Marshall says it's the brushing motion of the toothbrush that gets rid of plaque, not the toothpaste itself. The fluoride in toothpaste is beneficial for the teeth; otherwise, the paste simply provides flavor. Most dentists will caution parents to use only a little bit of toothpaste, only about the size of a pea, because young children tend to swallow it. And you can use whichever brand you like, but try to find one that's approved by the American Dental Association. You may also consider buying toothpastes that are made just for kids. They have flavors that may encourage more frequent brushing.
Fluoride helps harden teeth and makes them more resistant to decay. Many areas of the United States have fluoride in the drinking water, which is often adequate for good dental health. However, children between 6 months and 16 years of age who do not drink fluorinated water need to take fluoride supplements in either liquid or tablet form. So, talk to your doctor or dentist about whether your child needs this. Marshall says everyone should be using fluorinated toothpaste.
If your child is old enough to swish and spit without swallowing, he or she can probably use mouthwash. But it's not necessary. Most important for good dental hygiene at home are regular brushing and flossing. Marshall says you may consider buying an alcohol-free mouthwash, if you want your child to use it.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends you take your child to the dentist beginning at the age of one. That way you can talk about how to take care of your child's teeth at home and get to know your child's dentist.
For parents who are nervous about having their children get dental X-rays, Marshall says the radiation involved is extremely small, but there is still a very minor risk. On the other hand, there is also some risk in not getting X-rays. You could be missing decay or abnormal tooth development that could cause serious problems later on. So talk to your doctor or dentist about the pros and cons.