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With February being National Children’s Dental Health Month—as sponsored by The American Dental Association—it’s a great time to talk about our children’s teeth. Dental care introduced at an early age is important to create a lifetime of healthy oral hygiene habits.

While it’s recommended that you introduce your child to the dentist at age one, nearly half of all children ages 2 to 5 have never seen the dentist. Serious health conditions can result from poor oral hygiene.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 42 percent of children ages 2 to 11 have cavities on their primary (baby) teeth. Unfortunately, Black and Latino children are among those who have the highest incidence of decay.

These early visits are crucial. In fact, when a child’s first tooth appears, parents should make an appointment with the dentist.

He or she can discuss with parents topics of nutrition, evaluate dietary intake which can affect teeth and gums, and help parents establish healthy oral hygiene habits for their children. Regular preventative checkups should be scheduled every six months.

Before that first visit, though, it’s important for parents to brush their babies’ teeth twice a day.  Infants should not be given a bottle of baby formula, milk or juice at bedtime, as the sugar content can cause tooth decay.

Parents should supervise younger children in brushing their teeth at least twice daily.

A healthy diet, complete with fruits and vegetables and curtailing sugar, can help prevent cavities. This along with proper brushing and flossing is essential to a child’s overall health.

Healthy teeth and a beautiful smile can have a positive effect on a child’s confidence and self-esteem.

Scheduled routine visits to the dentist are important and encouraged to establish healthy oral hygiene habits, and to prevent tooth decay in children. A child’s first dental appointment, however, can be very challenging to the parent and child. The uncertainty of not knowing what to expect can create fear in children.

To that end, I’ve written a children’s story–beautifully illustrated by Reginald W. Butler and also available in Spanish—to help assuage that fear. A Sugar Bug on My Tooth (Un Bichito en Mi Diente) is an enlightening tale of a little girl’s first dental appointment that can prepare young  readers for their own first visit.

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Preparing Our Children For A Lifetime Of Proper Dental Health  was originally published on