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Parenting Guru: Are you passing tooth decay to your kid?

Julie Weingarden Dubin is a Michigan-based freelance journalist, blogger and author with three rocking kids, a loving husband and a trashed minivan. She covers parenting, health, psychology, relationships and pop culture for national mag...

How to protect your children's teeth

When your baby’s first tooth appears at about age 1, it's exciting — but how do you care for it? You need to start wiping, says Jonathan Shenkin, DDS, MPH, a pediatric dentist in Augusta, Maine, and faculty in health policy and pediatric dentistry at Boston University. Polish teeth with a damp washcloth or a piece of gauze after each feeding, and be sure to schedule their first dental visit no later than one year.

How to protect your children's teeth

When your baby's first tooth appears at about age 1, it's exciting — but how do you care for it? You need to start wiping, says Jonathan Shenkin, DDS, MPH, a pediatric dentist in Augusta, Maine, and faculty in health policy and pediatric dentistry at Boston University. Polish teeth with a damp washcloth or a piece of gauze after each feeding, and be sure to schedule their first dental visit no later than one year.

Brushing — a joint effort

Children should start brushing their teeth with fluoride toothpaste at 24 months. By age 2, they need to brush twice a day.

Between ages 2 to 6, only a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste should be used. It's important for you to do the actual brushing, since young children don't have the manual dexterity to properly brush their teeth. Let them brush first, but you then need to complete it for them.

Acid attacks

What do parents need to know about tooth decay?

Dr. Shenkin: Parents often allow children to drink juice or other sweetened beverages in between meals, and germs in the mouth that cause tooth decay appreciate. These germs feed on the sugar in beverages and snacks and then produce acid which attacks tooth enamel. Over time, these repeated acid attacks can lead to cavities.

Even 100 percent natural juice contains very high levels of sugar that can lead to tooth decay. Children really don't need juice and are better off getting their vitamin C through eating fresh whole fruits.

Any food or drinks you'd like parents to ban?

Dr. Shenkin: We often hear there is no such thing as a bad food — just too much of certain foods can be bad. But there is some research that shows that young children who drink soda and powdered sugar beverages are at a much greater risk of tooth decay than children who drink milk and water. If parents want to eliminate anything from their house, it should be sugar-laden beverages.

Are some kids more prone to tooth decay than others, regardless of how often or how well they brush their teeth?

Dr. Shenkin: The germs that cause tooth decay are believed to be transmitted from parent or caregiver, to child. This happens when children share the eating utensils, foods or even have a parent placing a pacifier in their mouth first to clean it. So parents with a history of decay themselves have the germs that causes decay, which they can then transmit to their child.

Model parents

It's crucial for parents to model good health behaviors such as brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily.

Hey, Moms

Do you oversee teeth brushing with the kids? Please share your thoughts and stories in comments below.

More on kids and dental health

7 Kid-friendly dental care products
A checklist for choosing a pediatric dentist
5 Ways to prevent childhood tooth decay

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