What is more captivating than the smile of a young child? Here are some tips to keep in mind (and share with parents) to make sure those lovely mouths get a healthy start!


Dental care begins before children's teeth are showing. Many pediatric dentists advise running a clean damp washcloth over a baby's gums after feedings to eliminate bacterial build up.

After a child has a few teeth showing, you can brush them with a soft children's toothbrush.

Young children should never fall asleep with a bottle in their mouths. Constant exposure to the sugar in milk or juice eats away at tooth enamel. This condition, called bottle mouth, results in pitted or discolored front teeth and sometimes in cavities.

The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children see a dentist by their first birthday. With the baby settled comfortably on a family member's lap, the dentist will discuss proper brushing, flossing, and look for any early teeth or gum problems.

Fluoride hardens tooth enamel to help prevent cavities. Some dentists prefer to apply topical fluoride after children's primary teeth have all come in. Other dentists, and some pediatricians, recommend using fluoride supplements when children are very young.

Even toddlers and twos can begin to brush their teeth themselves. A pea-size amount of toothpaste on the brush and an adult standing by to encourage children to spit (rather than swallow) is a good start.

This article originally appeared in the March, 2001 issue of Early Childhood Today.