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Once you see that first tiny tooth in your baby’s mouth, it’s a sign of big changes to come. Soon they’ll be moving onto new types of foods and toys, continuing to change before your eyes. But did you know you need to implement an oral care regimen for your child’s health before that first baby tooth appears? It may sound like just one more thing to add to the list, but don’t let it overwhelm you.

When your child is first born, they’ll be all gums, which may not seem like they require much work (especially when their diet is all liquids) but this isn’t the case. Old food particles can still collect within the mouth that can breed germs and bacteria, so it’s important to keep their mouth clean as best as you can. Use your finger covered with a clean, wet cloth, gauze or a thimble-like scrubber to gently wipe their gums to remove any excess food after feeding. Do this as soon as you notice the bottle is empty and after burping. You should also do this before bed.

As soon as you see those little chompers coming in, it’s time to begin caring for them in similar ways to your own teeth. This is crucial for all the same reasons — teeth that aren’t cleaned to remove plaque, food and bacteria can lead to gingivitis, an infection that is not only physically uncomfortable but can lead to tooth decay and permanent damage. Now it’s time to purchase a toothbrush to really make sure you get their mouth clean. Find one that is very soft and small enough to easily fit in their mouth while also big enough for you to handle it comfortable. Pick one in a bright color or with a character they like so it feels more like a toy.

After they make the transition to more solid foods and have several teeth, choose a kid-friendly, natural toothpaste to gently brush their teeth and gums in the morning after waking and before bed. Rinsing with a little water helps to remove any remnants of debris and doesn’t necessarily have to be spit out, especially since that can be hard to explain to them. Stay away from any additional fluoride until they’re three years old, unless advised by their physician.

What about going to the dentist? Your pediatrician may have a specific recommendation but there really isn’t a need for a visit before the age of one, unless you notice your child’s teeth are discolored, cracked or have any visible holes or cavities. Practicing proper home care and looking inside your child’s mouth regularly can help you stay on top of their oral health and detect any issues before they become too serious.

Looking after your baby’s oral health from day one sets them up for a lifetime of better dental checkups. Their baby teeth literally lay the groundwork for their second set of teeth, so don’t disregard how important they are. As they get older, use positive reinforcement to help them see the value of this daily routine and so it doesn’t feel like a chore. The reward for them is better checkups without any ouchies and  for mom’s it’s a gorgeous, toothy smile. Who doesn’t like that?

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