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Health Team

UNC program aims to make dental care a priority for toddlers

Posted April 8
Updated April 9

— Many parents don't take their children to a dentist until they begin having problems with their teeth, but a program at the UNC Hospitals is trying to make oral health a focus for toddlers. 

Dentists like Dr. Rocio Quinonez start relationships with their new patients and parents by asking questions about eating and drinking habits and providing advice on good oral health habits. 

Instead of waiting until age 3 to visit, dentists are also advising parents to follow the "First Tooth, First Birthday, First Visit" rule. 

Waiting can create consequences. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Health, 40 percent of children will begin kindergarten with a history of dental cavities. 

Julie Ricker knew the importance of starting early, and her 18-month-old son Emmet has already made multiple trips to the dentist. 

"I really feel like it's just a part of their overall health," Julie Ricker said. 

Quinonez said the program is also designed to make children look forward to going to the dentist. 

"Very few children get to the dentist by age 1, and our goal is to increase that," Quinonez said. 

Doctors also give parents the tools for good dental care at home. The American Dental Association says brushing with fluoride toothpaste should begin as soon as the first tooth emerges. 

"Their recommendation is that you should be putting a smear – or a little grain of rice – (amount of toothpaste) to assure that if they were to swallow any, it would be minimal," Quinonez said. 

Pediatric health officials also provide diet recommendations to help make dental care easier. 

They recommend children not have juice before turning 1 and say that breast milk or infant formula is vital to brain development. 

Once kids start drinking juice, they should have no more than 4 to 6 ounces per day. Parents should also avoid sticky, sugar-filled food like raisins or fruit roll-ups.

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