Experts say good dental care starts at birth by paying attention to a baby's gums.
This is the VOA Special English Health Report.
Bad teeth can be painful -- and worse. They can even be deadly. Infections of the gums and teeth can release bacteria into the blood system. Those bacteria can increase the chances of a heart attack or stroke and worsen the effects of other diseases. And adults are not the only ones at risk.
For example, in 2007, doctors in the Washington area said a boy died when a tooth infection spread to his brain. They said it might have been prevented had he received the dental care he needed. He was 12 years old.
Experts at the National Institutes of Health say good dental care starts at birth. Breast milk, they say, 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 a baby's gums and early teeth should be cleaned after each feeding. Use a cloth with a little warm water. Do the same if a baby is fed with a bottle. Experts say if you decide to put your baby to sleep with a bottle, give 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 to use them very gently.
The use of fluoride to protect teeth is common in many parts of the world. For example, it 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 young children often swallow toothpaste when they brush. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry 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 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 children stop sucking their thumb 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 say children should have their first dental visit at least by the time they are one year old. They say babies should be examined when their first teeth appear -- usually at around 6 months.
And that's the VOA Special English Health Report. I'm Steve Ember.