By age 3, an astonishing 20 percent of children already have some tooth decay, so it pays to start cleaning your baby's mouth regularly, even before her first teeth appear. After every feeding, be sure to wipe her top and bottom gums with a wet washcloth or a piece of gauze, advises Amy DeYoung, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Once a tooth appears, brush it twice daily -- ideally in the morning and evening -- using a soft toothbrush and water. Some experts recommend brushing your child's tongue as well (if she has a strong gag reflex, however, just stick to cleaning the tooth surfaces). After the evening brushing, don't let your baby go to bed with a bottle of milk or drink any beverage other than water. (If you're breastfeeding, take a moment to wipe off her gums and teeth before putting her down or returning her to her crib.)
In some cases, children can benefit from fluoride supplements. Ask your pediatrician and dentist about this option if you live in an area that does not fluoridate its water supply, if your child is exclusively breastfed, or if she drinks only bottled water that doesn't contain this crucial tooth-strengthening mineral.
After all of your child's baby teeth are in, she'll need to see the dentist twice a year. Before you know it, the Tooth Fairy will be visiting!