Baby's first tooth just busted through. Grab the camera! Cue the drool! Call the dentist!
The dentist? Yep. A new federal study reports that 25 percent of children ages 2 to 5 suffer from tooth decay, making it the most common chronic childhood disease.
One key to prevention: Focus on your tot's teeth as soon as they appear. Use a tiny toothbrush, gauze or washcloth on budding teeth, and start thinking about touching base with a professional. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry encourages taking kids within six months to a year of the first eruption.
Four dentists answer questions about that first checkup and more.
Q: How do you relax or distract the kids you're examining?
A: Tawann Jackson, of Washington: I explain everything, and that transfers over. When they need a filling, all those instruments are not foreign to them. (She calls the suction device "Mr. Thirsty.")
Amy Light, of Potomac, Md.: I have a couple of books that we've done ourselves that talk about what it is to go to the dentist. We paint the girls' nails. We give the boys (removable) tattoos.
Ricardo Perez, of Chevy Chase, Md.: Video games are a big hit. Books in the room. TVs that play child-friendly shows. Having a child-friendly staff that is willing to say "good morning" and smile at the kids.
Bobby Sears, of Herndon, Va.: I sing. I dance. I play the air hose. I teach in New York once a month, and I stress WWYD: What would you do if it were your kids?
Q: What should parents look for in their pediatric dentist?
Jackson: Dentists have to get to know the child, gain their trust. That takes a lot of time, and a lot of dentists don't do that.
Light: Communication is really important. ... Parents have a lot of questions, so you want to have somebody who can answer those questions.
Perez: A referral by a neighbor, friend or pediatrician is a good thing. Parents should look at a Web site to get an idea what the office is like.
Sears: Certification. Pediatric dentists have to do two or three years of postdoctoral training. There's a whole lot more information to learn about children, and we spend the extra years doing it.
Q: How do you get kids to brush their teeth?
Jackson: We talk about cavity germs. They like to grow and have a party at night when they sleep, and so we have to make sure to get all of them out.
Light: The parent needs to take charge and start brushing right away.
Perez: I explain how important it is to get all the gunk and food debris from their teeth and how important it is to keep their teeth clean so they stay healthy and don't have cavities.
Sears: We tell the kids that little bugs poop on their teeth.
Q: What's a common mistake a parent could make?
Jackson: Bribing! It never works in dentistry. Even when the parents promise two carts of toys from Toys R Us, the kids still won't sit in my chair and cooperate.
Light: They give bottles or sippy cups of juice and let them carry them around all day.
Perez: They rely on the kids being in charge of their own brushing and make bad snack choices.
Sears: They avoid coming, and a lot of that is based on their own apprehension. A lot of parents have had a rough time. Dentistry today is pretty much a painless business.
Q: What kind of toothpaste should kids use, since fluoride is bad for little tummies?
Jackson: It has to do with the ability to spit. Most toothpastes will indicate an age for the child. There's non-fluoride toothpaste that they usually can use up until 3 or 4 years old.
Light: When they're really young, I recommend Orajel Toddler Training Toothpaste. ... I find the one thing parents do is they just put too much on. A little dab'll do ya.
Perez: Kids under 3 years of age should use any toothpaste that is ADA approved or without fluoride. After 3 years of age, they can begin to use kids' toothpaste, a minimal amount. Much less than pea-size.
Sears: We don't like the heavy-duty toothpaste. It's mechanical brushing that gets the plaque off the teeth.
Q: Obviously, candy is bad. But what are some other foods to avoid?
Jackson: Too much apple juice. There's also lots of hidden sugars in yogurt.
Light: Gatorade is such a big drink and unfortunately really high in sugar. Potato chips and Cheetos are high in acid.
Perez: Kids should drink two things: water and milk. There's no reason kids should be exposed to soda. ... A child should not have a lollipop every day.
Sears: Juice can be devastating.