We’ve been looking after our own teeth for decades, so it’s easy to think that we’re experts by the time we have kids. But caring for the dental hygiene of a young child is a very different job. A good relationship with a dental hygienist is among the best resources a parent can have in this regard. Gerry Cool, the President of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, discusses some of the misconceptions and facts that parents should know.

1. You should brush your child’s mouth before their first teeth appear

Milk can cling to the gum line and cause problems before the first teeth erupt. “Even before they have teeth, parents should be cleaning the oral cavity,” says Cool. “Just take a soft cloth and brush the gums. Get them used to having their mouth cleaned on a regular basis.”

2. Baby teeth are just as important as adult teeth

Just because baby teeth eventually fall out doesn’t mean they are expendable. “Decay in the primary teeth can lead to having to remove teeth, causing many problems,” says Cool. “Having all the teeth in the mouth and keeping them healthy is extremely important for nutrition and learning to speak. Baby teeth also guide the permanent teeth into the mouth.”

3. Sugary drinks should be avoided, especially at bedtime

The sugars, natural or added, in juices and other drinks can be devastating to young teeth if they aren’t promptly cleaned afterwards. “You shouldn’t be putting children to bed with sugary drinks or even milk,” says Cool. “Water is the best drink for children away from mealtimes.”

4. The 12-month dental visit is important

The first dental visit is arguably the most important one of a person’s life. “That age-one dental checkup is  important,” says Cool. “That’s when we first look to see if things are developing properly. It’s a real educational opportunity and it allows us to see if there are any problems.”

5. Good dental hygiene habits need to be instilled early

The brushing/flossing habits established early in life are good indicators of a lifetime of good oral health. “It’s really important that you instill the habit that this is something you do morning and night,” says Cool. “Supervise their brushing and make sure they are doing it properly every time.”