How to look after your children’s teeth according to a dentist
If you have a toddler you know how tricky it can be to get them to brush their teeth. But is it really that important at this age? When should you start taking your children to the dentist? I asked Amelia Seselja from the Australian Dental Association to answer these questions and reveal everything there is to know about caring for your children’s teeth.
When should you start brushing your child’s teeth?
Brushing your child’s teeth helps remove dental plaque, a sticky film containing bacteria that accumulates and forms on our teeth. You should begin cleaning the teeth as soon as a child’s first tooth erupts, which is around the age of six months. In the initial months, this can be done with a face cloth or a small toothbrush.
How often should you brush their teeth?
Toothbrushing is a basic oral hygiene behaviour that helps to mechanically remove and control the build-up of dental plaque on teeth and gums. Because dental plaque continuously forms on our teeth, it is important that we remove it regularly. Therefore tooth-brushing should occur at least twice-a-day, for two minutes, once in the morning and once at night after dinner.
What type of toothbrush and toothpaste should you use?
When your child’s teeth first appear, you can brush them with a small (children’s size) soft bristle toothbrush and water. From 18-months-old you can begin to use a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth. Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste after brushing, but not rinse. If your child is deemed to be at higher risk of developing decay, your dentist may recommend a higher concentration of fluoride in the toothpaste.
How can you encourage your child to brush their teeth?
It is important to make toothbrushing an everyday habit, the more brushing becomes second nature to the child, the easier it gets. You can make cleaning your child’s teeth more fun by creating a brushing game or putting on their favourite song as you brush their teeth. Some powered toothbrushes have the ability to play tunes for set periods of time to encourage appropriate brushing. There are also some fun YouTube clips and apps that make toothbrushing more interactive for young children. A brushing chart can also be used as positive reinforcement – you can add a sticker each time your child brushes their teeth (morning and night).
Remember to set a good example as a caregiver and prioritise your oral hygiene habits too, as children will learn from you.
When should they start brushing their own teeth?
As a rule of thumb, if a child cannot tie their own shoelaces then they probably cannot brush their teeth effectively on their own. Parents should continue to assist with toothbrushing until around the age of 8 years old when their dexterity is more developed.
Does drinking water after eating help fight decay?
Rinsing can help clear away food particles that may be lingering after eating, however, it doesn’t take away the problem of sugar ‘feeding the bacteria’ and increasing the risk of decay. Tap water should be the main drink for children and they should be encouraged to drink water throughout the day. If you are lucky enough to live in a fluoridated area, then encourage your child to drink tap water as it contains a small amount of fluoride to help protect their teeth from decay.
What foods should children avoid for healthy teeth?
Frequent consumption of sugary foods and drinks are the number reason for tooth decay, therefore it is important to limit sugar consumption. To help control the amount of sugar your child consumes, always try to read food labels and choose foods and beverages that are low in added sugars.
Can fruit cause tooth decay?
Dentists agree with other health professionals in encouraging the consumption of fruit as a part of a healthy diet. Even though fruits have varying amounts of sugar, if they are eaten as a part of a balanced diet, their effect on decay does not appear to be great. Once again, rinsing can help clear away food particles that may be lingering after eating.
Does grazing cause tooth decay?
Every time we eat, the bacteria found in dental plaque uses the sugars found in foods and drinks to produces an acidic by-product, this is known as an ‘acid attack’. If our teeth are consistently exposed to acid attacks (and this occurs when we snack and graze) then the acid attacks begin to dissolve our tooth mineral (tooth enamel) and a hole (tooth decay) will begin to form.
It is important to have set meal times rather than grazing, so our teeth have time to recover after we eat from these acid attacks. Be selective with the foods you choose. Avoid foods that get stuck in teeth and linger like chewy and sticky foods. Water should be the main drink throughout the delay. Avoid sugary drinks like fruit juices, cordials and soft drinks. Be selective with snacks you choose. Veggies, fruit, cheeses and lean meats are great and tasty and nutritional option.
When should you take a child to the dentist?
Regular dental check-ups need to begin early, within six months of their first tooth erupting or by a children’s first birthday.
How can you make the visit a positive experience?
Parents and caregivers play a very important role in making the visit to the dentist a positive and enjoyable experience. It is important that when you talk about the dentist you use positive and children friendly terms like ‘going for a ride in the dental chair’ or today we are seeing the tooth fairy’s friend. Do not use the dentist as a deterrent and refrain from telling stories about bad experiences.
In the lead up to the first dental visit, you could ‘play the dentist ‘at home and count your child’s teeth and explain that dentist takes care of our teeth. If you think your child has special requirements that may be challenging, taking them to a specialist paediatric dentist may be an option.
How often should children go to the dentist?
Regularly dental check-ups are a preventive measure and a time where information can be transferred; they are also associated with better oral health outcomes for patients. Each patient is different and how often they visit the dentist will be based on their needs and risk status. Your dentist will advise you on how often check-ups should be.
What’s the best way to find a children's dentist?
Word of mouth is often a good way of finding someone who will suit you. Most dentists are very happy and capable of treating children, although some prefer to concentrate on treating adults. Speak to your dentist and gauge their opinion. If your child has special needs or isn’t comfortable at the dentist, seeking out a specialist in the field, a paediatric dentist, is often a good idea. The Australasian Academy of Paediatric Dentistry has a register of specialist in Australian and New Zealand.
What are the tell-tale signs of problematic teeth?
With respect to decay, the major problem in children, changes in appearance are the first sign a dentist will see (white spot lesions) – and the earlier these are picked up, the greater the chance these changes can be reversed. Once a hole is obvious in a primary (baby) tooth, the tooth will need to be restored (filled), or if the hole is large, the tooth may need to be removed. So, catching the decay in its early stages makes treatment far easier. If a child complains of pain or discomfort, best to have their teeth checked by a dentist.
Any more tips?
It is important that the parents and caregivers have a healthy mouth, too. Did you know that babies are not born with the bacteria and diet that causes tooth decay? If you have tooth decay, then you can pass your high decay risk onto your baby. Mothers who have hole(s) in their teeth when they give birth have children at much higher risk of getting decay, so it is important to decrease the decay risk before the child is born. Make sure you practice good oral hygiene and see you dentist regularly and have any tooth decay treated.