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Did you know that tooth decay, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the most prevalent chronic disease in children? The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research states that 42 percent of children from the ages of two to 11 have had cavities in their baby teeth and that 21 percent of children from the ages of six to 11 have had decay in their permanent teeth. Cavities in children, however, can be easily prevented. As a parent who doesn’t want your child to be one of these statistics, prevention starts with you. Here are five basic components of a good preventive program for your child.

Good Home Care from Day One

A good home care routine starts the day you bring your baby home from the hospital. Using a moist gauze pad or washcloth, gently clean your baby’s gums after feedings. Once teeth appear, you can clean them with a soft baby brush and water. As your child grows, so will his toothbrush size, but don’t be too quick to let him brush on his own. Children are not coordinated enough to clean their teeth thoroughly until they are about eight to 10 years old.

Floss your child’s teeth once a day, and keep in mind that, as your child gets older and brushes and flosses by himself, they may still need reminders and monitoring to ensure that they are doing a good job.

Dental Visits Start Early

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that you take your baby to the dentist for his first dental visit before he is a year old. This allows your child to get used to the dental office, and your dentist can check the growth and development of the teeth. This is a good time for you to ask questions about teething, fluorides, home care, pacifiers and thumb-sucking. Scheduling regular dental visits throughout your child’s life is extremely important in preventing dental problems.

Fight Acid Attacks with Healthy Snacks

Bacteria in your mouth creates acids from the sugars in the food that you eat, according to the AAPD. These acids are produced for approximately 20 minutes after eating and are responsible for dissolving tooth enamel and causing cavities in children.

To prevent baby bottle tooth decay, avoid putting any sugary drinks in the baby bottle, limiting the contents to formula, milk and water. In addition, it is best not to put your baby to bed with a bottle containing anything other than water since the sugars in formula and milk can damage his teeth while sleeping.

Try to give your child healthy foods with lots of proteins, calcium and phosphorus to develop strong teeth. To prevent decay, limit snacking, and replace sugary snacks with healthy versions, such as fruits, vegetables, peanut butter, yogurt and cheese.

Fluoride Makes Strong Teeth

Fluoride is a mineral that helps strengthen tooth enamel and makes teeth more resistant to decay-causing acids in the mouth. There are many sources of fluoride: Community water supplies, fluoride toothpaste, rinses and gels, fluoride supplements and fluoride treatments in the dental office. But before you give your child any type of fluoride, ask your dentist or pediatrician for a recommendation.

Sealants: Protective Raincoats for Teeth

The chewing surfaces of a child’s back teeth often have very deep grooves where food and bacteria can hide and cavities can start. The good news is that your dentist can place a clear barrier, called a sealant, on the top of the teeth to protect them from decay, as explained by the American Dental Association. Sealants hold up well and can last several years before needing to be replaced.

If you want to protect your child’s teeth from decay, diligently adhere to these five basic preventive strategies. There’s no denying that the payoff will be well worth the effort: You will have a child with a prize-winning smile that is cavity-free!