As parents, keeping our children’s bodies safe is our top priority. But what about their teeth?

Keeping kids teeth clean and healthy starts at an early age, and is something that should continue as they get older. Angela Veire, DDS, HealthPartners Dental, answers some commonly asked questions to help keep your children’s teeth health at any age.

At what age should I bring my child in for his or her first dental visit?

Because decay and cavities can start at a very early age, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that kids should be seen by their first birthday or within 6 months of their first tooth coming in. That first visit is an excellent opportunity for us to exam your child’s soft tissues, gums and jaws. The first dental visit is the chance to get your child started off on the path to a lifetime of excellent dental health.

What are some things I can do to help keep my infant’s teeth healthy?

Eliminate night time bottle feeding as soon as possible after teeth start coming in, and discourage thumb-sucking and pacifier habits. When you do feed your baby, be sure to wipe off his or her teeth.

What are some practical tips for ensuring my school-age child has good dental health?

It really comes down to two major components: diet and oral hygiene. Brushing twice a day and flossing daily is important for your kids' teeth, even when you have to do it for them (yes, even baby teeth need to be flossed). Parents should also take their child to the dentist regularly. The dentist can partner with you to create a plan to keep your child’s mouth healthy. As for nutrition, it important to have a balanced diet and to avoid sugar especially in fluids (juices, flavored milks, pop) and in sticky, chewy sweet things like fruit snacks. Speaking of beverages, I recommend that you avoid giving your child juice in a sippy cup, as often times toddlers will carry the sippy cup around and sip on it over the course of several hours, leading to cavities due to the constant sugar exposure. As a general rule, I recommend only putting water in the sippy cup between meals. Milk is a fine choice at meal times, and juice is okay as long as it’s once a day during a meal.

What tips do you have for making my child’s dental visit successful?

The best thing that parents can do is to not transfer any of their own anxieties or negative feelings about the dentist to their kids. Do what you can to make dental visits enjoyable for your child. Reinforce good dental habits by brushing and flossing every day and regularly visiting your dentist. Talk about the dental visit in a positive manner and let your dental team do the rest. If you’re looking for more assistance, there are books and YouTube videos with cartoons about going to the dentist that can help your child prepare before the first visit.

When should my child begin using toothpaste and how much should be used?

The sooner the better! As soon as the teeth begin to appear, start brushing using training toothpaste and a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush. Parents should help their kids at least once a day, ideally at nighttime. Under supervision of a parent, a fluoridated toothpaste can be used, but just a smear is needed. Younger children do not have the ability to brush their teeth effectively, so parents should continue to assist kids to help achieve the best results.

Watch Dr. Paul Musherure from HealthPartners Dental Clinic - St. Paul on KSTP as he shares dental tips for kids.