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The day your baby’s gummy smile gets its first tooth can be such a fun – and drool-filled – milestone. But once more teeth pop through, parents often wonder how to care for them and when they should start taking the baby to the dentist.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of Pediatrics both have guidelines on the care of children’s teeth.

Your baby’s first tooth will likely erupt between 6 and 12 months of age. But before you ever see that first bit of white through the gums, remember to wipe your baby’s mouth with a soft, moist cloth at bath time and after feeding. It’s a great habit to get into because as teeth erupt, this time can be exchanged for twice-daily cleaning with a soft child’s toothbrush.

To avoid tooth decay, don’t give bottles of formula, milk or sugar-containing liquids when the baby is lying down or just before bed. This is a good rule of thumb even before teeth appear.

A preschool child should brush at least twice daily, after breakfast and before bed, using no more than a pea-sized dab of toothpaste on a child-size brush. Toothpaste should be spit out, not swallowed, after brushing.

Pediatric dentists recommend beginning routine preventive-care checkups at the age of 1 year, or shortly after eruption of the first teeth. Your dentist may recommend yearly checkups until the age of 3, after which you may wish to have them done every six months. Such dental visits should be a fun, positive experience, not threatening.

From school age and beyond, routine brushing and flossing along with regular checkups, fluoride supplementation, application of sealants when appropriate and careful monitoring of snacks and sweet drinks should keep your children’s teeth and mouth healthy. 

Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.