Providing proper care and oral hygiene during preschool years can mean a lifetime of good oral health, according to a 2005 issue of General Dentistry, a clinical, peer-reviewed journal of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing education.

Research shows that children who develop cavities in their baby teeth are more likely to develop cavities as an adult. So how can a parent determine if their child is at risk for cavities? It all begins with that first trip to the dentist.

The first dental visit should include an exam to determine if the child is at low, moderate or high risk for cavities and will help decide which oral hygiene program best suits them. The dentist will be able to explain to the parent how often the child should be brushing as well as provide flossing instructions for the child.

"Brushing should begin when the first tooth erupts," says lead author of the report Jane Soxman, DDS. "Parents should be in charge of a child's brushing until the child is able to tie his or her shoes or write their own name clearly-usually five or six years of age."

Children whose parents are prone to cavities and tooth decay need to be extra careful. "We know there's a genetic predisposition to tooth decay," says Dr Soxman. Children at high risk for cavities should be discouraged from eating starchy snacks such as crackers and chips. In fact, one good way to determine if a snack is good for a child is to check their teeth 20 minutes after consumption. If the teeth are still filled with food, the snack should be discontinued.

"Regardless of what food is eaten, regular efforts have to be made to clean the teeth before decay can begin," says AGD President Tom Howley, DDS, MAGD. "This means things like brushing, flossing, rinsing after snacks and using non-sugary beverages in bottles or sippy cups."

"Even if your child is not at risk, it is always good to routine dental check-ups and to limit your child's intake of sugary foods," Dr Soxman says.

"Essentially all children are at risk to some extent or another," says Dr Howley. "So the same basic principles apply -- control of exposure of cavity-inducing food and through cleaning of the teeth. Even if decay is a low risk for an individual child, they can still develop gingivitis or other problems if home care is inadequate."

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