toothbrushing for kids

Many baby books advise you to brush your baby's teeth as early as six months of age, says Dr. Michel Cohen, author of "The New Basics." If there are no teeth yet, they tell you to brush the tongue, brush the gums...brush anything in sight.

What's the point of brushing teeth that aren't even there? Babies eat every couple of hours on average, so even in your wildest dreams you couldn't hope to keep Lucy's mouth clean.

Also, as anybody who has actually tried to stick a toothbrush into a baby's mouth can testify, there is no way to do this gracefully. The same goes for gauze pads or those cute toothbrush finger puppets. And if Lucy lets you in there briefly, your chances of doing anything efficient are close to zero. If you're too pushy, you run the risk of creating a permanent aversion to toothbrushing. In young children, limiting sweets is a far more efficient means of cavity prevention.

Don't bother with toothbrushing until about twelve to fifteen months, when Lucy actually has a significant number of teeth and likes imitating anything you do. Now is the time to buy her a cool-looking toothbrush and, during her bedtime routine, let her pretend she's brushing her teeth while you do yours. As she grows older, she'll find this ritual pleasant, and she'll gradually become better at it. Then you can show her the right brushing techniques and how to floss.

As for toothpaste, use kids' formulas. Regular toothpastes have too much fluoride, which can toxic in high amounts for kids, who rather eat it than spit it out.