When parents find out they’re expecting, first thoughts are of all the ways they’ll care for their child, including their teeth and smile. Children’s dental care starts long before the tooth fairy visits the house for the first time or appointments at the Invisalign dentist or orthodontist for braces for teeth. It starts even before their first baby teeth appear. If you want your child to grow up to have attractive, healthy, and straight teeth, the time to start proper dental care is right from infancy.

Since baby teeth are temporary it seems that their care pales in contrast with other pressing child-rearing duties, right? Wrong! Baby teeth get cavities just like adult teeth and need to be taken care of accordingly, to prevent early childhood caries, commonly referred to as baby bottle tooth decay. While upper front teeth are more susceptible, all baby teeth can be affected.

Keeping bacteria at bay is a must to help prevent dental decay and dental fillings. The simplest, and most obvious way to prevent this is avoid sugary drinks and juices and not put your child to bed with a bottle. When your baby is fussy, try a pacifier instead to calm your little one down.  And please, don’t dip it in honey or sugar. A less obvious solution is to stop cleaning your baby’s spoon or pacifier with saliva as this can pass bacteria to the child. Try weaning your baby from the bottle by their first birthday as well.

To keep your newborn’s mouth clean, take a wet cloth and wipe their gums. Once teeth appear, gently brush twice a day with a small child-sized toothbrush with a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste until age three and a pea-sized amount from aged three to six. Teach your child to brush all sides of their teeth for a total of two minutes. Don’t leave children under the age of 6-7 to brush unattended and make sure they don’t swallow any toothpaste. Just as with adult teeth, to make sure food isn’t left between teeth, flossing between teeth daily is vital to help prevent cavities.

Teach kids to eat a healthy diet. While it is a given to avoid sugary cookies and cakes, it is important to watch out for sugars and acids present in juices and sodas as well, since they can weaken the enamel on teeth leaving them vulnerable to more cavities.

Lastly, schedule your child’s first visit to the family dentist when their first primary tooth appears. To help prevent tooth decay, your dentist may recommend fluoride treatments or sealants. These, plus a dental cleaning twice a year, will better ensure that your bundle of joy will have healthy teeth and gums for years to come.