Avoid "Baby Bottle Decay"
For years, pediatricians and dentists have been cautioning parents not to put an infant or older child down for a nap with a bottle of juice, formula, or milk.
Even so, says Largent, many parents don't realize this can wreak havoc with their child's oral health.
The sugary liquids in the bottle cling to baby's teeth, providing food for bacteria that live in the mouth. The bacteria produce acids that can trigger tooth decay. Left unchecked, dental disease can adversely affect a child's growth and learning, and can even affect speech.
If you must give your child a bottle to take to bed, make sure it contains only water, according to American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.
Control the Sippy Cup Habit
Bottles taken to bed aren't the only beverage problem, says Hayes. The other? "Juice given during the day as a substitute for water and milk," Hayes says.
Often, that juice is in a sippy cup. It's meant as a transition cup when a child is being weaned from a bottle and learning to use a regular cup.
Parents mistakenly think juice is a healthy day-long choice for a beverage, say Hayes and Largent. But that's not the case.
Largent says she often sees children walking around all day drinking juices and other sugary beverages from a sippy cup, and that's hazardous to dental health. "Prolonged use of a sippy cup can cause decay on the back of the front teeth," if the beverages are sugary, she says.
Juice consumption has been linked to childhood obesity and the development of tooth decay, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In its current policy statement on preventive oral health, the organization advises parents to limit the intake of 100% fruit juice to no more than four ounces a day. Sugary drinks and foods should be limited to mealtimes.
"Pediatricians I know are telling parents to use juice as a treat," Hayes says.
Ditch the Binky by 2 or 3
Pacifiers used in the first year of life may actually help prevent sudden infant death syndrome, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They suggest using a pacifier when placing the infant to sleep but not to reinsert once baby has drifted off. Long-term use can be hazardous to dental health. Sucking too strongly on a pacifier, for instance, can affect how the top and bottom teeth line up (the "bite") or can affect the shape of the mouth.
Largent tells parents of her young patients: "Pacifiers are for infants, not for toddlers walking around with them in their mouths." She discourages long-term use of even the "orthodontically correct" pacifiers.
Largent says she prefers that pacifiers be dropped by age 2. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests getting a professional evaluation if the pacifier habit continues beyond age 3.