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The most prevalent childhood disease is dental caries (aka cavities), but thankfully, cavities are largely preventable--as long as you start caring for your baby's teeth as soon as they sprout, usually at 6 to 9 months. "It only takes a couple of months for cavities to form," warns Joel Berg, D.D.S., M.S., a professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Washington School of Dentistry in Seattle. Here's how to avoid early-childhood tooth decay.
Brush properly A random, quick scrub won't do it, says Berg. Instead, hold an infant-size or fingertip brush at a 45-degree angle with bristle tips pointing toward the gums as you exert very slight pressure. Brush sans toothpaste--babies just swallow the stuff--for five seconds per tooth after breakfast and before bed; also, massage gums with the brush or a soft cloth. Some helpful tools include the Gerber Infant Tooth and Gum Cleanser ($6; gerber.com), Latsa Infant-Toddler Safety Toothbrush ($33 for 12; latsa.com) and Spiffies Dental Wipes, which contain cavity-fighting xylitol ($5 for 24; spiffies.com).
Consider fluoride drops If your tap water doesn't contain fluoride (call your local water authority to find out) or your baby drinks mostly bottled water, talk to his dentist or pediatrician about prescription fluoride supplements. Recommended no earlier than 6 months of age, the drops make tooth enamel more resistant to acid and bacteria.
Find a children's dentist Pediatrician and dentist groups agree that all kids should see a children's dentist by age 1 for an evaluation and for parents to learn proper brushing technique. An appointment might even prevent higher dental-care costs later, according to a study in Pediatrics: Researchers found a savings of nearly $200 over five years when a baby's first trip to the dentist occurred by age 1.