February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. So this week, I’ll extract the fact from the fiction when it comes to your child’s teeth.

Parents have told me they don’t think their babies needs to see a dentist since they have no teeth. Actually, a dental visit is recommended as soon as the first tooth comes in – or at the latest by year one.

Your first dental visit can catch problems that can cause dental issues up the road. Annual checkups should follow. Choosing a dentist is as important as having a child health professional to oversee your infant’s health needs.

Another common myth is that sugar directly causes cavities. Actually, sugar feeds the bacteria in your or your child’s mouth and allows those bacteria to thrive and multiply. As bacteria multiply, they produce large amounts of acid that breaks down teeth. That makes sugar an indirect cause for cavities.

Speaking of cavities, parents ask me if they only form where you can see them. The answer is no. Decay happens wherever leftover food particles, especially sugary ones, get stuck between and behind teeth. Cavities may be present even if you can’t see them.

Are children more likely to get cavities than adults? No. This is another myth. Children today have half the amount of tooth decay that they had 20 years ago. This is thanks to the use of sealants on teeth, along with good brushing and flossing. Today, adults are more prone to cavities than children.

What about brushing versus flossing? Which is more important?

Brushing is more important than flossing for young children just getting their teeth.  In fact, brushing should start even before a baby starts teething. You can run a clean, damp washcloth daily over the gums. Brushing can start with the onset of the first baby teeth.

Flossing is more effective than brushing at cleaning out food particles that get stuck between teeth. This is true for young children once the majority of the baby teeth have appeared. Flossing can and should begin during the toddler and preschool years, along with brushing twice a day.

Hopefully tips like these provide more than a mouthful of facts about how to keep your child’s teeth healthy.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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