February is Children's Dental Health Month and this is a great opportunity to give parents critical information to create a cavity-free home from the youngest ages.
Here are my top tips for infants and toddlers in regards to dental health:

Baby bottle cavities
Parents may ask, "Do infants and toddlers get cavities?" and, unfortunately, the answer is a sad "yes." A majority of these cases are almost entirely related to bottle usage in the crib. Well-intentioned parents desiring a sound sleeping baby will put their child to bed with a bottle of milk. During the night the child drinks the milk to stay asleep and, in turn, bathes the teeth in sugar-causing cavities. This can also happen with breast milk when the child nurses throughout the night. Rule of thumb: Never put your child to bed with anything in the bottle except water.

Cavities are contagious
Yes, you heard me right. Cavities are caused by bacteria and when your child was born his mouth was bacteria free. During the first years of life, a child acquires bacteria from their surroundings. "Who" is their surroundings these early years? Yup, parents and siblings. If mom, dad, sister or brother have a history of cavities, this means they have a type of bacteria that can cause cavities. If anyone in the home has active cavities, this is when it is easiest to pass the bacteria to other people through their saliva. Rule of thumb: Don't share saliva by sharing cups, spoons or anything else, and make sure all untreated cavities in the family are treated promptly.

Not just candy
Many people think that if they avoid sweets, they will avoid cavities. This is only a little bit true. In the second tip, we learned that bacteria cause cavities, but how? Bacteria living in the mouth need food to survive and they rely on your child's diet to flourish. However, they can only eat fermentable carbohydrates (simple carbohydrates or processed carbs), and the most common foods in this category are crackers, breads, pastas, chips, fruits, juices and, yes, candy. So never eat these kinds of carbs? No, but it should be limited. In order for the bacteria in a child's mouth to create cavities, they need these carbs frequently throughout the day. Rule of thumb: Keep the fermentable carbs only at mealtime, brush right after meals, and choose low-carb or carb-free snacking. The best kind of cavity-free snacks are cheese, meats, nuts, natural peanut butter and fibrous veggies like carrots, celery and broccoli. Not only are these snacks healthier, they will also fill your child up and your child will snack less.

Fluoride
Unlike water in the United States, all the water in Europe is not fluoridated. Fluoride serves two purposes -- it has an antibacterial effect and it strengthens enamel making it more resistant to acid produced from bacteria. In very small doses (as in fluoridated water or toothpaste) it will not harm the body and help keep your child's mouth cavity free. Fluoride toothpaste is also a great way to defeat cavities at home. For children younger than two, it is recommended to use only a very small smear of toothpaste while brushing twice per day. For those older than two who can spit out toothpaste, use a pea-sized amount twice per day. Rule of thumb: Make sure your child has regular fluoride coating their teeth.

First dental exam
Rule of thumb: A child's first dental visit should take place by the first birthday or within six months of the first tooth. Contact your local Army Dental clinic to learn more about your options for making your child an appointment.

For more helpful information regarding your child's dental health, visit the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry at aapd.org.