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Taking care of teeth

Posted: September 22, 2008 8:35 p.m.
Updated: November 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Brushing, flossing and rinsing may seem like basic tasks, but those three actions could be the difference between cavities and a healthy set of teeth. Smart dental habits start at an early age and require the help of parents to encourage kids.

Brushing for babies
Oral hygiene begins even before the first tooth comes in, according to Dr. Laurence Amelang, a dentist in Valencia who has been in practice since 1976.

When a baby is teething parents can rub an ice cube on the gums to calm the child and help the tooth break through the gum, he said.

When the first tooth appears, parents should use a wash cloth wet with water to rub on the teeth.

Many baby accessory stores sell finger puppets made out of terry cloth. Amelang said.

Parents can then clean their teeth while making a game out of it, he said.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends parents use the damp wash cloth every day to clean the mouth.

After a few more teeth are visible, Amelang said parents can start using a small child's toothbrush.

The dentist remembered teaching his own kids how to brush their teeth.

"I'd put them on my lap, hold them and brush their teeth for a few seconds to give them the idea," he said. Then he'd give the toothbrush to the child so they can play with it and learn how to hold a brush.

During that time, Amelang said parents shouldn't be too focused on the kids brushing the proper way.

"I think that below 5 years old, they don't have the dexterity to do their own job," he said.

The CDC recommends parents supervise as kids learn to brush their teeth twice a day.

After age 5
After age 5, parents can purchase tablets from local drug stores to turn brushing teeth into an educational game, Amelang said.

Once dissolved, the tablets show plaque on the teeth and parents can encourage their kids to brush all of it off.

As for toothpaste, less is better.

"You don't want them foaming at the mouth," he said.

The CDC advises parents to use a proper amount of fluoride toothpaste. Each brush should require only about a size of the pea and parents should tell their kids to spit out the toothpaste, as well as properly rinse, according to the organization.

Parents can also consider giving their kids fluoride tablets to supplement the lack of fluoride in the water supply.

Kids can take the tablets from age 6 to 12 to "make teeth stronger" while reducing the number of cavities that develop throughout the lifetime, Amelang said.

Amelang believes the best time to bring a child in for their first checkup is about age 3.

"It should be after they've gone through their separation anxiety phase," he said. During that time, kids can sit in the dentist's chair on their own without feeling the need to sit on a parent's lap.

However, organizations like the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry believe the first visit should be made by the child's first birthday. Getting a checkup in the early years ensures that dentists and parents can teach positive dental habits and prevent any future dental problems, like tooth decay caused by baby bottles.

From that point, the dental organization advises a dental check up at least twice a year for most children.

As kids adjust to dental visits, Amelang said parents can monitor their kid's dental health by looking themselves.

Until the age of 3, Amelang doesn't think parents have to be too concerned with poor dental hygiene.

"There's no reason to worry when they're young," he said. "There's a lot of preventative care."


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