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How can I prevent tooth decay in my child?

Strangely enough, mothers may unknowingly cause cavities in their babies. Decay in baby teeth results from an overgrowth of oral bacteria, and mothers, or other intimate caregivers, can pass this bacteria to their babies through close contact. Other causes of decay include putting a baby to bed with a bottle and inadequate fluoride intake.

While baby -- or primary -- teeth may be temporary, they're important because they hold space in the jaw for permanent teeth and are necessary for chewing and speaking. Besides causing pain, cavities in baby teeth can also increase the risk of decay in permanent teeth.

Practice good personal oral hygiene. Studies have shown a link between a mother's oral health and her baby's, so it's important to reduce your own oral bacteria level by thoroughly brushing your teeth every morning and evening and flossing at least once daily. Be sure to use a fluoride toothpaste, and rinse nightly with an alcohol-free mouthwash that also contains fluoride. Consume fruit juices only at meals, and try to limit carbonated beverages during the first 30 months of your baby's life, as these drinks have been associated with an increased risk of tooth decay. See a dentist regularly, and never share utensils with your baby or clean a dropped pacifier in your own mouth. If you like to chew gum, choose a brand that contains xylitol, as recent research suggests that this ingredient can decrease your child's rate of tooth decay.

Take care of your baby's teeth.Clean your baby's mouth with a damp cloth after feedings. When his teeth start to come in at around 6 months, brush them twice each day, and begin flossing when the teeth touch one another. Provide no more than a total of 4 to 8 ounces of juice daily, and serve it only at mealtime. If you put your baby to bed with a bottle, fill it with water, and never give him carbonated drinks. Provide fluoride only as recommended by your pediatrician.

Have a dental check-up.Your pediatrician should give your baby his first oral-health risk assessment when he is 6 months old, and if necessary, refer you to a pediatric dentist. To help your baby grow up to have healthy teeth and a winning smile, he should have a comprehensive examination by a dentist by the time he's 1 year old.


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