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Chew on This MONTH 9 WEEK 2

You can’t get enough of baby’s yummy smile – which may by now be punctuated by one or two bottom teeth, jack o’ lantern style. Still, though, an oral care regimen is probably not at the forefront of your mind.

But [PSA voice] did you know that more than than 40 percent of children have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten? Ew. No mom wants to subject her young child to the awfulness of fillings, novocaine, or extractions. So here are a few tips to help you care for baby’s precious chompers and gums, beginning now:

Wipe down her gums daily with a damp washcloth. Yup, even if she’s toothless. This clears away germs that can form bacteria and harm the teeth as they come in – plus it builds the habit of daily oral care. Do a special toothbrushing song to make a ritual of it; hopefully Beyonce comes out with one soon, but until then make up your own.

Once teeth come in they should be cleaned gently twice a day. Use an infant toothbrush or one of those silicone finger-sleeves. The ADA recommends a sliver of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice, but some parents are more comfortable using fluoride-free; in that case, use pea-size drop of a training toothpaste.

Don’t let baby go to bed with a bottle of formula or breast milk; when sugars from these milks sit in the mouth, the body converts them into cavity causing acids. Use a pacifier or a lovey if baby wants comfort-sucking.

Though your baby isn’t eating too many sugary sweets yet (save for those trusty teething biscuits), keep in mind it’s not just sweet foods that can cause tooth decay; starchy foods like crackers, pretzels and bread can be surprise culprits, too. Not too much of an issue now, just something to think about down the line once she inevitably becomes obsessed with all manner of crackers. We’re lookin’ at you, Cheddar Bunnies.

The AAP recommends babies have their first dentist visit by 12 months with a pediatric or family dentist. Did some of us at WUM miss this memo? Possibly so. Just get it on your radar. Your pediatrician can be a resource for referrals.

That rascally grin is one of your most precious commodities. Start taking good care now.