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Laying the Roots for Healthy Teeth in Young Children

Experts say good dental care starts at birth by paying attention to a baby's gums. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

It might seem hard to imagine that a bad tooth could be deadly.

But doctors in the Washington area say a twelve-year-old boy died last month from a tooth infection that spread to his brain. They say it might have been prevented had the boy received the dental care he needed.

Experts at the National Institutes of Health say good dental care starts at birth. They say breast milk is the best food for the healthy development of teeth. Breast milk can help slow bacterial growth and acid production in the mouth.

But dentists say you should clean your baby's gums and early teeth after each feeding. Use a cloth with a little warm water. Do the same if you bottle feed your baby. Experts say if you decide to put your baby to sleep with a bottle, give your baby only water.

When baby teeth begin to appear, you can clean them with a wet toothbrush. Dentists say it is important to find soft toothbrushes made especially for babies. And use them very gently.

The use of fluoride to protect teeth is common in many parts of the world. This natural element is often added to drinking water supplies. The fluoride mixes with enamel, the hard surface on teeth, to help prevent holes, or cavities, from forming.

But the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry points out that young children often swallow toothpaste when they brush. The group notes that swallowing fluoridated toothpaste can cause problems. So young children should be carefully supervised when they brush their teeth. And only a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste, the size of a green pea, should be used.

Parents often wonder about what effect thumb sucking or sucking on a pacifier might have on their baby's teeth. Dental experts generally agree that this is fine early in life.

The American Academy of Family Physicians says most kids stop sucking their thumbs by the age of four. If it continues, the group advises parents to talk to their child's dentist or doctor. It could interfere with the correct development of permanent teeth.

Dentists strongly advise a first dental visit at least by the time a child is one year old. They say babies should be examined when their first teeth appear.

Healthy teeth are meant to last a lifetime. Daily cleaning is important to preventing infections and other problems. We will talk more in the future about dental care for children and adults.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. Transcripts and audio files of our reports are at I'm Steve Ember.