The Surprising Truth About Cavities

Time for a Checkup

A crucial way to help limit cavities -- regardless of whether they run in your family -- is to diligently brush and floss, which physically pushes bacteria, plaque, and sugar off the teeth. Fluoride is an essential part of dental health because it not only restores calcium to decaying teeth, but also limits the production of corrosive acid. Your child should see a dentist by his first birthday, according to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Association (AAPD) and the AAP. If you wait until your child is older, decay can be well underway: About 40 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds have cavities.

However, most parents don't know they should make an appointment for their baby. A recent study found that only 10 percent of 1-year-olds and 24 percent of 2-year-olds had ever visited the dentist. "Not all pediatricians look out for a toddler's oral health, and some doctors don't even look at the teeth," says Dr. Casamassimo. But it's important to treat cavities in baby teeth: These first teeth serve as space holders for permanent teeth, so losing one prematurely can cause alignment problems that will need to be corrected with braces later.

Although you may worry that your little one will never sit still and open her mouth, the first visit will be quick. The dentist can easily spot the telltale plaque buildup along the top gum line that's a sign of mutans (you can look for it too), and he can also do a culture to measure bacteria levels (in you and your child).

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