The 1-2-3’s of Giving Your Child a Healthy Smile


By Michelle Webb, DMD
Harbor Health Services, Inc.

“1 By the Age of 1”

Parents often ask at what age their child should first visit the dentist. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child have his/her first dental visit by age 1 or within 6 months of eruption of the first primary tooth. There are many reasons to adhere to this recommendation. As soon as the first primary tooth enters the oral cavity, it is susceptible to decay. With early establishment of a dental home, dental decay can be better prevented through both education and treatment (if necessary). Early positive interactions at the dental office can help to decrease your child’s dental anxiety as well as present the opportunity for you to ask any questions related to the oral health of your child. Your dentist can also provide tips and instructions that will help you to provide better oral healthcare for your growing child.

“2 Minutes, 2 Times/Day”

The American Dental Association recommends brushing for 2 minutes at least two times per day to effectively prevent dental decay. Before your child’s first tooth erupts, you can begin to familiarize your child with the cleaning process by using a clean, wet washcloth or wet piece of gauze to clean his/her gums. As soon as the first tooth erupts, you can begin caring for it by brushing with a small baby toothbrush and a dot of fluoride toothpaste. For ages 2 -5, a pea-sized amount is recommended. As your child grows, encourage him/her to use the toothbrush to brush his/her teeth, but remember to supervise the brushing and to check that all teeth have been cleaned afterward.  Establishing your child’s daily brushing routine can be challenging, but by pairing the activity with a reward, you may find that you have more success. Ideas include allowing your child to listen to his/her favorite song while brushing and using a weekly brushing checklist to keep track of and then reward your child for his/her positive behavior. You can also brush your teeth at the same time to help model the brushing process for your child. For more information, including a printable brushing checklist for your child, check out the Ad Council campaign website at .

“3 Balanced Meals a Day”

While brushing and flossing are essential to maintaining a healthy smile, it is also important to consider how your child’s diet affects his/her oral health. Bacteria live in the mouth, accumulating in groups called plaques, and are responsible for causing dental decay by producing acids that attack the outermost surface of teeth. These bacteria use sugars, including those found in candy and other sweets, as food sources for survival. By minimizing your child’s intake of these foods, and supplementing his/her diet with foods that are anti-cariogenic (cavity preventing), such as milk and cheese, your child will be one step closer to a healthy smile.


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