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Oral hygiene for kids

Turning good dental practices into habits very early can prevent cavities and many other problems down the road. Some tips:

*Start early. As soon as a child's first tooth appears, begin cleaning it with a brush and water -- no toothpaste yet -- and make a dental appointment.

*Introduce toothpaste slowly. Kids usually are ready for toothpaste by age 2 or 3 years old. To keep them from swallowing large amounts, put a pea-sized bead of paste on the brush and squash it down into the bristles.

*Let kids pick out their toothbrushes. Opting for a favorite color or cartoon character helps them feel in control.

*Make brushing fun. Put on some great music and do a little dancing as part of the nighttime brush-and-floss routine. Parents can brush at the same time so kids can imitate them.

*Help with flossing. Kids don't need to floss until gaps between their teeth have closed, but they likely won't be coordinated enough to try it on their own until ages 6 to 8. Before that, it's a parent's job.

*Expand the tooth fairy's role. She doesn't just bring money for lost teeth. She also might leave encouraging notes and rewards for good brushing and flossing.

*Limit sugary snacks. Emphasize regular meals and healthy snacks, but if kids do eat or drink something sugary, teach them to brush or rinse their mouths with water soon afterward.

*Talk up the dentist. Don't pass on your hatred of dental appointments or details on your fillings and root canals. Keep it positive: the dentist's office is a fun place that helps kids stay healthy.

McClatchy Newspapers