If you're like most parents, you want to do all you can to give your little one a great start with dental health. And this means starting young. If you have a toddler, it's important to introduce them to proper oral care in order to establish good habits and keep their gums and teeth healthy. Here are five ways you can help them do just that.

Feed the Right Foods

Having healthy teeth and gums starts with what they eat. To promote proper oral health, feed the following foods to your child:

Bananas. These are an excellent snack because they contain vitamin C, which helps to promote a healthy mouth. Furthermore, they're high in fiber and low in sodium, making them a healthy choice all the way around.

Avocados. If you can get your toddler to fall in love with this superfood, you're definitely doing something right. Avocados contain vitamins C and B, both of which encourage healthy gums. But they also have folate—a nutrient that helps to reverse gum disease. 

Sweet potatoes. Rich in vitamin A, sweet potatoes help the mouth in so many ways. They keep mucus membranes healthy and they boost the formation of keratin—a necessary ingredient for tooth enamel.

Winter squash. This nutrient-dense vegetable is high in both vitamin C and calcium, making it one of the best foods you can feed your toddler.

Keep Their Mouths Clean

If your toddler hasn't yet sprung that first tooth, you may not think oral care is necessary just yet. But keeping the gums healthy before the first tooth erupts not only establishes good oral hygiene habits, it can also prevent sore gums and the buildup of bacteria.

After your toddler eats or at bath time, gently wipe the gums (and any existing teeth) with a soft, damp piece of gauze or a washcloth. 

Skip the Bedtime Bottle

If you give your baby a bottle to fall asleep with, you're not alone. However, there are several arguments against doing this and here's why. 

When your baby falls asleep, small amounts of milk and juice remain in the mouth, leading to sore gums and possible cavities down the road. But the liquid can also travel down the Eustachian tubes and cause ear infections.

Because your little one is likely comforted by sucking, try giving them a bottle of water or their favorite pacifier instead.

Provide a Clean Pacifier

Your toddler's pacifier can become a breeding ground for germs that will attack their oral health when not used or cleaned properly. Small particles of food can get stuck in the nooks and crannies, and cracks in the silicone can harbor sugary juice and other germs.

Before using for the first time, boil the pacifier for several minutes. Then, after each use, wash with warm water and soap or run it through the dishwasher.

Do not coat the pacifier in sugar or honey as this can promote cavities and gum disease as well as cause botulism. And if you notice a crack anywhere, throw it away.

Lastly, offer the pacifier to your child only when absolutely necessary. Extended use can slow down their language development, and it can promote tooth decay.

Brush and Floss Early

As soon as you see the first tooth erupt, it's time to introduce your toddler to a brush. Start with wetting the brush and getting them used to the sensation. Then graduate to a small amount of unfluoridated toothpaste. By the time they're three years old, you can switch to a fluoride brand. Use a small, soft-bristled brush that fits comfortably in their mouth and isn't too big.

As soon as they have two teeth side-by-side, you can begin flossing. Stick with wide, flat floss that easily fits between the teeth.

Once your child's first tooth appears, be sure to schedule their first dental appointment within six months. But taking them to meet the dentist and staff at a clinic like Sunnyside Dentistry for Children before that can help make their first exam go smoothly.