What did the phrase, “Go brush your teeth” mean to you when you were growing up? Had you been taught healthy habits so that you knew just what to do and didn’t mind it? Or was this something you dreaded and wanted to get over as quickly as possible — perhaps causing cavities and other problems as a result?

You can and should teach your child how to keep his or her teeth healthy — and it doesn’t have to be hard, with these five tips:

Start practicing good oral hygiene while your child is still a baby

Good oral habits should start before your baby’s first teeth even come in. Run a damp, clean cloth over your baby’s gums to remove any bacteria. Once your baby’s first teeth come in, use a baby toothbrush and a tiny bit of fluoride toothpaste if your pediatric dentist recommends it. You can floss as soon as your child’s teeth touch side to side.

Get your child involved in daily oral hygiene as soon as he or she is a toddler

Once your child is old enough to hold the toothbrush with help and to follow basic directions, you can have him or her begin to “help” with brushing teeth. Of course, your hands-on participation is also required. Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and teach your child to spit toothpaste out, then rinse. Supervise brushing until your child is about six years old.

Make oral hygiene fun!

Let your child pick out his/her own special toothpaste and toothbrush. Make it exciting and fun, a game. Avoid any sort of “negative reinforcement” or punishment associated with brushing; that will turn it into a chore. If your child doesn’t want to brush his or her teeth right when you say, just walk away and try another time. The most important thing is that your child’s teeth are thoroughly brushed twice a day and flossed once a day.

Practice good dietary habits

Foods and drinks that are low in sugar and refined carbohydrates, and high in nutrition should be a mainstay for your child as soon as you bring him or her home. Even babies can develop tooth decay if good dietary and oral hygiene habits are not followed. Don’t allow your child to suck on a bottle (or sippy cup, once older) filled with juice, milk, or another caloric beverage throughout the day or put him or her to bed with one; if you must do so, fill it with plain water.

When your child is old enough to eat regular food, limit sugary, starchy, sticky snacks and sweets like potato chips, candy, cookies, or even so-called “healthy” ones like fruit leathers, and focus on nutritious foods instead. Make sugary foods and drinks and other “treats” that promote tooth decay a rare occurrence for special occasions.

Take your child to the dentist regularly

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that you schedule your child’s first dental exam after his or her first tooth comes in, no later than the first birthday. Schedule visits regularly, usually about every six months thereafter, or as your child’s dentist recommends it.

If your child needs a dentist, schedule a visit with Dr. Ira S. Morrow, DMD, in Yonkers, NY today. Dr. Morrow is a specialized dentist for kids. He knows how to make little ones feel at ease — teenagers, too. Just call his office at (914) 476-4040 or visit the website at http://yonkersgreatsmiles.com to schedule that first visit for your baby, arrange a checkup, or address a dental problem immediately.