We all want to give our kids the best possible care, but do you know the best way to look after your children’s teeth?
With 33% of five-year-olds suffering from tooth decay, the state of children’s oral health in England is seriously troubling. Below is a guide to caring for your children’s teeth right from the start. A good dental hygiene routine really pays off in the long run.
Brush their teeth regularly right from the very first tooth
As you know, a regular dental hygiene routine for your child is essential. But not that many parents know exactly when to start. You should begin brushing when their first tooth appears at around six months. Some babies are born with teeth and some don’t develop them until they are nearly a year old, so there’s no need to panic if your baby is either an early or a late developer. If your baby is well over a year old and still doesn’t have any teeth, you can see a dentist to have them reassure you. If your child is an early developer and you feel that their teeth are affecting their eating, then it might be a good idea to see your dentist or doctor right away.
When you start to brush your baby’s first tooth, you may find it easiest to sit down to hold them more securely. Sit your baby on your knee with their head resting against your chest, gently brushing all the surfaces of their tooth or teeth in a circular motion. You should be using a soft-bristled toothbrush that is the right size for their mouth — adult toothbrushes are far too big!
You should be using a fluoride toothpaste from the start to strengthen your baby’s teeth and, unless you are advised otherwise by your dentist, your baby can use the family toothpaste. Many kinds of toothpaste aimed at children don’t actually have enough fluoride, especially if you live in an unfluoridated area, such as Stonehouse. You should be brushing their teeth (and yours) with a toothpaste with fluoride levels of between 1,350 and 1,500 parts per million. Children below three should only use a small smear of toothpaste to reduce the risk of swallowing. Children between three and six should use a pea-sized blob. Make sure they spit out the toothpaste but don’t rinse — fluoride from the toothpaste should remain on the teeth to help strengthen them.
You should gradually move on to supervised brushing for two minutes twice a day until they are around eight, once as part of their bedtime routine and once in the morning. While they are learning to brush their teeth, guide their hand so they know what they should be doing. Try brushing your teeth with your child so they can see how it should be done. Give them a mirror so they can see what they are doing and a two-minute egg timer so they know how long they should be brushing their teeth for.
Teething and tooth development in babies
Your child’s teeth will go through several stages of development. They will typically develop their bottom front teeth first, followed by their top front teeth and then they will gradually break through working backwards. Most children will have a full set of milk teeth by around two and a half and will begin to lose them between the ages of six and seven.
Some children will teethe with little pain but many will be uncomfortable. Their gum may be sore and red with a flushed cheek and your baby might dribble, or be fretful. Many babies develop a fever and diarrhea before their tooth breaks through but if your child is exhibiting these symptoms you should still take them to your GP.
If your child is in teething pain there are many different methods to soothe them, although different methods will work at different times. Your baby will be feeling similar to how you felt when your wisdom teeth came through.
One thing that may help is pressure — this is why products such as teething rings exist. A solid, silicone-based teething ring is better as they have a little give in them, can be sterilised and don’t leak. Make sure you check that the ring you buy is baby-friendly (free from harmful chemicals) and washable; this is the sort of product it’s really worth investing in. For added soothing power put it in the fridge for a little while to make it cool.
If your baby is eating solids, you could also give them cool, soft foods to chew on such as banana or giving them a little plain yogurt to eat.
You may also want to try teething gels. If you do, make sure you read the packet thoroughly — they may only be suitable for babies over a certain age. They contain a local anaesthetic and an antiseptic but will only last for a short while, especially if your baby is dribbling. Bear in mind that sometimes your baby will want nothing more than a comforting cuddle.
Baby’s first visit to the dentist
You should take your baby to the dentist when their first tooth appears for two reasons: first, the dentist will be able to identify any developing problems in your child’s mouth and second, your child will become acclimatised to the dentist, helping to prevent them from developing anxiety around dental treatment. Be positive when you take your child to the dentist and try and make the trip fun. Your dentist will see your children for free and will tell you how often they should be visiting.
Caring for your child’s teeth
Besides regular brushing, how else should you be caring for your child’s teeth?
To avoid decay, try and limit their consumption of sugar. Try to keep sweets and treats to mealtimes and have healthy snacks such as carrot sticks or rice cakes in between meals. Never use sweets as a reward. There are high levels of sugar in some really surprising foods — dried fruits, for example, are high sugar and can stick to your child’s teeth, increasing the amount of bacteria and risk of decay.
Avoid all fizzy drinks — as well as being full of sugar (at a massive 36g per can) they are acidic, increasing the risk of enamel erosion. While diet fizzy drinks might not have the vast quantity of sugar, they are just as acidic and erosive. Your child should be drinking plain water and plain milk. If you want to give them fruit juice, limit it to a single 150ml glass of fruit juice a day with their meal. Babies under six months should not be drinking fruit juice or ‘baby’ fruit juices. Your child should gradually stop drinking from bottles at six months, switching to a free-flow feeder cup. You should avoid the ‘anti spill’ cups that require suction to work — these encourage your child to associate a sucking action with drinking, letting the sugar from drinks stay in contact with their teeth for longer periods.
If your child is prescribed medicine, ask your doctor if a sugar-free version is available, especially if the medication is long term. While many children’s medicines are sweet to soothe the child, the sugar can have negative long-term effects.
You should also try to avoid dummies and thumb sucking as they may affect speech development. The alteration will not be permanent if they stop early but they can be a hard habit to break. If your child is thumbsucking, discourage them from speaking with their thumb or a dummy in their mouth and don’t dip their dummy into sweet things such as jam.