Remember when that first lil' tooth poked out, as a shiny white light at the end of what can be a seriously miserable teething tunnel? Baby teeth feel like such a milestone - but they also present a new challenge when it comes to figuring out how to care for them. Fortunately, #MINDRMAMA Lilya Horowitz is a NYC based dentist (and the mom of two little boys with a very extensive toothbrush collection), and she's here to make sure you know what's what when it comes to your kiddos' teeth.

A child should have their first dental visit by age 1. Most parents wait until their child is between the ages of 2 and 3 to take them to their first dental check up. This is a common mistake. For those of you with older kids, think about it - is it easier to have your 1 year old do something, or your 2 or 3 year old? I have been in the position of having a squirmy 2 year old sitting in my chair for their first visit and refusing to open their mouth. A 1 year old is usually much more cooperative. The first dental visit is just as much for the parent as it is for the child. The dentist will explain what steps you should be taking to maintain your child’s oral health and prevent cavities, as well as go over techniques to make this process easier for the whole family. In addition, early exposure to the dentist and the dental office will help your child become more used to coming in for regular checkups. If the visit becomes a positive experience, your child will look forward to it, rather than waiting to come in only when a problem arises. This advice is useful for adults as well!

Establish a bedtime brushing routine and stick with it until your child goes off to college. I am kind of joking here, but not really. I have had parents with children as young as 5 proudly exclaim that their kids brush their teeth all by themselves. We all want our children to be independent, but this is something that needs to be monitored. Most kids will neglect to brush all the way in the back. As they get older and their adult teeth come in (around age 6), I frequently see tooth decay in those permanent teeth, which could have been easily prevented. A good rule of thumb is: if you wouldn't trust your child to cook dinner for you, then they cannot be trusted to brush their own teeth without supervision. I let my kids brush on their own, but always come in and finish the job. They know that after teeth are brushed, they can only have water until the morning. I do a last snack/milk call around 30 minutes before tooth brushing begins. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends the use of a toothpaste that contains fluoride as soon as teeth erupt (a barely visible smear until age 3) and a pea size from ages 3-6. 

Children that are breastfed on demand after 12 months are more prone to tooth decay. While there are many benefits to breastfeeding, there are also problems that can arise if you are not careful. As kids get older and incorporate more refined carbohydrates into their diet (bread, crackers, cereals), their risk of tooth decay increases dramatically. When these foods are being eaten, the pH of your saliva goes down, creating a more acidic environment, which is ideal for cavity-causing bacteria. This, combined with constantly marinating the teeth in breast milk throughout the night, can cause the enamel to break down and lead to extensive tooth decay. If you continue to nurse into toddlerhood and beyond, stick to a bedtime brushing routine and only offer water until the morning. 

The earlier you get rid of that pacifier the better. I have used a pacifier for both of my kids. They can be a great tool in those early newborn days, but as kids get older, both the children and the parents can become dependent on it. My recommendation would be to start thinking of phasing out the pacifier when your child is around 3 months old. At that age, the separation will be easier and your child will likely forget about it quickly. As they get older, taking the pacifier away can become much harder. Prolonged pacifier use can affect oral development by altering facial growth, slowing down teeth eruption and increasing the risk for needing more orthodontic treatment in the future.

Toddlers between the ages of 2 and 3 are at high risk for tooth-related trauma. Keep an eye on your little ones when they are running and jumping next to shelves or ledges like those near a window or a bed. If an accident does occur, try to check their teeth for any breakage or mobility and consult your dentist if you suspect damage has occurred. If your child is older and there is an accident involving their permanent teeth, get them to a dentist ASAP to minimize the risk of losing the tooth.

Got questions for Lilya? Drop them in the comments, along with your top suggestions for making the daily dental routine less of a struggle.

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