As soon as your babe sprouts a tooth (around 6 months, give or take), bust out the toothbrush. (Even those teeny baby teeth are at risk for decay!) Start brushing two times a day using a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush. Add just a wee smear of toothpaste for a child less than 2 years old, recommends the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. (Many dentists recommend that kids under age 2 use a fluoride-free toothpaste because swallowing too much fluoride -- before your child knows how to rinse -- can cause a discoloration of their permanent teeth. Others say using a tiny smear of a fluoride toothpaste is fine, so ask your dentist what's right for your child.)
Starting brushing at a very early age can help your child avoid the anxiety over tooth brushing later on, says Susan Savage, RDH, BSDH, president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association. "When children learn early that this is a routine part of daily life, they're often less likely to have an aversion to it." And don't let the start-early train stop at twice-daily brushing: The American Dental Association urges parents to take their child to the dentist within six months of the first tooth arriving -- and no later than your child's first birthday.