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How to Keep Your Kids Cavity-Free

Baby first teeth now so the chompers waiting in the wings come in healthy and gorgeous. Chicago pediatric dentist Grace Yum, D.D.S., tells how:

Wipe baby gums. A quick once-over with a damp cloth before bed removes bacteria that can harm soon-to-erupt teeth.

Brusha brusha. Once those pearly whites pop, brush once (realistically) or twice (ideally) a day with a soft, toddler brush. Use a pea-size drop of non-fluoridated toothpaste until age 4, or when your kid can reliably spit it out (swallowing fluoride regularly could make him sick and cause spots on the adult teeth).

Floss. Okay, we might as well be asking you to trim a wild bear's claws. But start using those plastic flossers now and your kid just might get used to it. Give your child a batch of colorful plastic flossers to encourage her to clean between her teeth. Even if she does only a few teeth a night it will help.

Ditch the bedtime bottle. The milk or juice can pool in your child's mouth as he dozes off, causing serious decay known as "bottle mouth."

Visit the dentist by age 1. Ask your doctor for a referral or find one at the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry website: Aapd.org.

Say cheese! And eat some, too. The protein in it -- casein -- helps prevent tooth decay, so pass the cheese sticks. Another tasty idea: lollipops with xylitol (for kids over 4), a natural sweetener that prevents plaque buildup. Try Dr. John's Candies ($8.50 a pound; Drjohns.com).

Spin it. Get her a battery-operated spin brush for more effective plaque- and bacteria-removing motion (a cheap model is just fine).

Brush to the beat. Have your kid scrub along to her favorite song to get her to hang in there for the recommended two minutes.

Finish up. If your child is younger than 8, do a final sweep with the brush after she's done to hit all the nooks and crannies -- and especially the back molars.

Be snack savvy. It's not just sugary foods you have to watch out for. Any starchy or processed high-carb food can get stuck in the crevices of teeth. Some surprising offenders: potato chips, wholewheat bread, crackers, and cereal bars. Follow with a glass of water to rinse them out.

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