How to keep your child's teeth healthy

Brushing twice a day should definitely be non-negotiable in your house, especially since experts are seeing more and more kids with cavities.

The problem actually starts with the preschool set. In fact, more than 25 percent of children aged 2 to 5 years old in the United States have tooth decay, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What’s more, pediatric dental disease is the primary reason children visit the emergency room each year, according to the Forsyth Institute.

So what more can you do to make sure your child’s teeth and gums will be healthy throughout his lifetime? Here are five things you can do now:

1. Start dental visits early.

“Early intervention can prevent cavities,” said Dr. Joel H. Berg, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.  Berg said children should see the dentist by the time they turn one or when the first teeth erupt.

The dentist can make sure your child’s teeth are coming in properly, assess his or her risk for problems later on, and talk about fluoride and the correct way to brush your child’s teeth.  Plus, regular visits before age 3 get your child used to being examined, which can allay any fears and make it a positive experience, Berg suggests.

2. Eat healthy.

Even if your child isn’t allowed to eat cookies, sugar—albeit natural—can still show up in formula, milk, juice, fruit and crackers.

Make sure your child is eating a balanced diet and try to avoid sticky or sugary snacks. Offer juice only at mealtime and water in between and never put your baby to bed with a bottle.

3. Care for baby teeth.

Even though baby teeth will eventually fall out, it’s important to take care of them now.  Baby teeth hold the place for permanent teeth, are important for speech development, and allow your child to chew nutritious food.  Plus, infected baby teeth can cause tooth decay in permanent teeth.

“The earlier you can start an oral health practice, the more it becomes just part of the daily health routine,” said Fern Ingber, founding president and CEO of the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation: America's ToothFairy / Canada's ToothFairy and community advocate for underserved women and children.

Starting at birth, wipe your baby’s gums with a damp washcloth after feedings. If your baby has teeth, brush at least twice a day in the morning and at bedtime, if not more frequently. If your baby uses a pacifier, clean it in warm, soapy water – not your mouth.

4. Model good habits.

Experts agree children aren’t able to brush their teeth properly until they are 8 years old, so make supervised brushing a habit. What’s more, studies show that when parents have their own healthy habits, children are more likely to follow suit. So let your child watch you brush and floss or bring him with you to the dentist. “Let them know it’s a positive time,” Ingber said.

5. Make it fun.

If good oral hygiene is an enjoyable experience for your child, he or she is more likely to want to do it. “You want to make this a fun, engaging time where they’re really showing off their smile and their teeth,”  said Ingber, who suggests singing songs as you brush or letting your toddler take turns with the toothbrush. You can also create a brushing chart to show off at the next dentist visit.