Baby teeth are just as important as adult teeth.

“Some people think baby teeth don’t matter because kids lose them,” says Latoya Wilson, DMD, a general dentist with St. Louis Children’s Hospital Healthy Kids Express mobile health van. “Kids with a healthy set of baby teeth often speak earlier, have better diets and miss school less.”

Taking care of baby teeth also teaches kids healthy habits that keep permanent teeth healthy and cavity free.

The First Year

For infants up to 1 year old, or before the first tooth appears, rub their gums daily with a wet cloth. Also, keep bottles out of the bedroom if you can. Milk or formula can linger on the gums and cause cavities in baby teeth. For children older than 6 months, a bottle with water is OK if your baby is fussy, but Dr. Wilson says that it’s best to get kids used to going to bed without a bottle.

When baby teeth arrive, around age 1, lightly brush their teeth with a toothbrush and kids toothpaste. Continue lightly brushing their teeth for them until age 4.

By the time a child is age 1, he should have his first dentist visit.

Letting Kids Brush

By age 4, kids should start brushing their own teeth. Have them brush twice a day with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste that has fluoride in it. Fluoride protects teeth from cavities. Floss your child’s teeth until age 6. Then, let her take over.

Most importantly, get them excited about having healthy teeth. It even helps if you brush your own teeth while they brush theirs to be a good role model.

“Parents can support kids in a lifelong goal of dental health,” Dr. Wilson says. “If they are excited about it, their children will pick up on that.”

Call the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Family Resource Center at 314.454.KIDS (5437) and press “5” to have information about dental health sent to you.

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