Dear readers – we are embarking on a month long campaign on the blog, that will see you educated and inspired when it comes to looking after your child’s teeth. Today’s post is an introduction to dental hygiene for children, and it will be followed by more specific posts on related topics. Comments, requests or feedback? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we all know, either from our experience as parents or the distant memory of our own formative years, getting kids to stick to a thorough dental hygiene regimen can be something of a challenge. Nevertheless, it’s of vital importance in avoiding problems in both the long run and the shorter term. Here we guide you through what you need to know about how to look after your child’s teeth.
A child’s first set of teeth, known as their milk teeth, start to come through at one year of age, bringing with them a shed load of tears and some long, sleepless nights for their beleaguered parents.
There are only 20 teeth in this first set, which, from the age of 6 onwards, start to be replaced by adult teeth, of which there will be 32 in total. (Note, therefore, that unless you’re being particularly generous with her, the tooth fairy shouldn’t cost you anything more than £20). Wisdom teeth turn up fashionably late to the party, making their entrance (which, again, can be pretty uncomfortable) from the ages of 17 through to the mid twenties.
Learning to care for their teeth at a young age will set your children in good habits for the rest of their lives, and, besides the health benefits, this will also help with their confidence at an age where social interactions can have an important and lasting impact.
Preventing Early Tooth Loss
Children are resourceful creatures and can be relied upon to find all manner of inventive ways to lose their teeth, from BMX stunts gone wrong, to a bump in the playground or an abrupt falling out with gravity. Whilst these things are simply part of life, other more mundane causes of tooth loss aren’t so difficult to avoid.
Tooth decay for instance depends on the bacteria that gather on our teeth having access to dietary sugars on which to feed and convert into harmful acids. This process will be far less damaging if children avoid loading up on sugary snacks at every opportunity. Regular and well executed brushing will also mitigate the need for intervention from a dentist (look out for blog posts on this topic over the coming weeks).
Likewise, dental erosion, which occurs when we consume food and drink that contain their own acids (such as citrus fruits or fizzy drinks) can be avoided by going for more tooth friendly alternatives. Though this sounds simple enough, the fact that more than 50% of five year olds suffer from some level of dental erosion is testament to the fact that these harmful products are ingrained into our lifestyles. If dental erosion becomes too progressed, your child may need a filling to help protect the damaged tooth.
As well as keeping an eye on potentially troublesome food and drinks, be sure to have your child brush at least twice a day, first thing in the morning and last thing at night. You’ll also need to take them to the dentist around twice a year (although your dentist will advise dependant on each patients needs). As children’s teeth are smaller, decay can spread at a more rapid rate, meaning they may need more advanced professional attention than you are likely to require yourself.
Fluoride and Brushing
Fluoride is a helpful mineral for our teeth. It helps to reinforce our enamel armour and ward off the spectre of decay. It’s added to the drinking water that comes out of our taps in localised areas of the country and is a key ingredient in toothpaste.
Though it’s helpful for our teeth, children are better off not having too much of it as it can cause dental fluorosis, which can range from mild flecking of the enamel to complete major enamel deformation in extreme cases.
Toothpastes contain varying amounts of fluoride and when your children are very little you should use products at the very bottom of the scale. For children under 3 year’s old you should go for a product which only contains no more than 1,000 ppm of fluoride (parts per million is the standard way the substance is measured). When they get to 3 you can move up to a paste with 1,350-1,500 ppm. *
(Of course, if there isn’t any fluoride in the water where you live, you may actually need to get more. Your dentist will be able to advise you on this and could supply fluoride tablets, especially in cases where they feel your child is at risk of tooth decay.)
As well as using only milder strengths of paste you should only use sparing amounts when children are very young, with just a smear being enough for smaller children. You should work brushing into your child’s daily routine as soon as their teeth come through, once in the morning and again before they go to bed for the night. Just as with adults, you should leave a good length of time after eating or drinking before brushing, especially acidic things, as this leaves time for the enamel to take on minerals from one’s saliva. This can help prevent the onset of tooth decay.
At the age of around 7 children should learn to brush their teeth on their own, but you’ll need to supervise them at first to make sure that their technique is sound (or that they don’t just skip out brushing altogether).
One good way of demonstrating how well (or badly) a child is brushing their teeth is with the use of a disclosing tablet. When chewed the tablet leaves plaque stained in a bright colour on a child’s teeth. This can really bring home just how well teeth need to be brushed to get them properly clean (aside from which, kids generally love seeing the mouth transformed into a pink or blue mess!)
It’s common for parents to worry about how much sugar and acidic food and drink their children should be allowed to consume, but, from a dental point of view, the amount they have is not so important as the frequency with which they have such treats.
You shouldn’t allow them before bedtime, as sugar or acid left on the teeth over night causes more damage than it does during the day. Likewise, try not to allow them as snacks in between meals either. If you do need to offer snacks, try fruit, milk and vegetables which are healthy and only contain natural sugar. Milk and cheese, which are alkaline, have the added benefit of neutralising acid, which can help prevent tooth erosion.
*Exact concentrations of fluoride in your child’s toothpaste should be provided by your dentist after consultation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Drinks With No Added Sugar Better For Children?
Not necessarily. Just because there’s no added sugar doesn’t mean a drink is low in sugar. Fruit juices, as well as being acidic, usually have a lot of naturally occurring sugar, so the issue of whether or not extra sugar has been added is only a secondary concern. The best drinks for your child’s teeth are those that simply aren’t sugary in the first place, such as water and milk.
Always check the label to see how much sugar a drink contains, even if it is labelled as having no sweeteners or sugar added. It pays to be wary of products that make boasts about not having any added sugar. They usually contain enough as it is.
What Should I Do If One of my Child’s Teeth is Knocked Out?
Children tend to get into scrapes, which is all part of growing up. At one point it’s not unlikely that they could lose a tooth in an accident whilst playing. If the tooth in question is part of their first set, then it’s no disaster. Most dentists will advise that you just wait for the permanent tooth to come through. Indeed, trying to replace a milk tooth can actually cause damage to the permanent tooth below.
However, if the tooth in question is one of their permanent teeth you should take action. The first thing to do is to ensure that the tooth is clean. You can do this by cleaning and bathing it in milk. When doing this avoid touching the root.
If the tooth is undamaged, once clean, put it back in its place and secure it there by having your child bite down on a clean handkerchief. You then need to get to a dentist as soon as you can (within half an hour is possible). If the tooth will not go back into its socket, your child should keep it in their cheek or it should be put in a glass of milk.
If your child plays sports that involve the use of a mouth guard, it’s worth investing in a properly fitted rubber option provided with the advice of your dentist. These can cost more than DIY moulds, but offer a better fit and a greater level of protection.
Will a Dummy be Detrimental to my Child’s Teeth?
Usually, the answer to this is ‘no’, however, if they suck on a dummy for excessive periods of time the development of their teeth can be affected, and this might lead to the need for orthodontic treatment later in life. For instance, the pressure exerted by a dummy on the back of a very young child’s teeth could push them forward slightly, meaning braces could be needed once they reach their teenage years.
To avoid this happening, it’s best to make only sparing use of dummies, effective as they may be for keeping your child calm. Try and keep use of the dummy to times when it is really needed to help your child to settle down – just before bed time, for example. You certainly shouldn’t let them suck on it all day. Anything more than six hours a day is likely to lead to problems. (There are dummies designed especially to reduce the impact on a youngster’s forming teeth, and these are worth hunting down, especially if you have a child who is especially fond of theirs.)
It’s not just dummies that are a problem. Once children grow out of dummies they often take to sucking their thumb as a replacement. This can have much the same effect as prolonged use of a pacifier. Indeed, as thumb and finger sucking tends to last longer as a habit, it is often more harmful.
To stop the use of a dummy the easiest thing to do is to throw it away. Stopping thumb sucking can be a little bit trickier. One good method is to try and promote some level of self awareness. Ask your child if they realise when they’re sucking their thumb. They probably don’t. Most kids do it as an automatic reflex or a as a coping mechanism in situations where they are uncomfortable or feel distressed (for others it is simply force of habit.)
Whatever you do, do not dip a child’s dummy in honey or other sweet substances. This will certainly be harmful to their teeth.
GDC number: 81217
Toothpick CEO and co-founder
Prior to launching Toothpick, Sandeep took just 3 years after qualifying to build a successful private Dental Clinic in Central London. He later sold this, in order to embrace and develop the technology necessary to create Toothpick. Sandeep’s mission is to simplify the appointment booking process by bringing together dentists and patients via a live transparent online platform. Sandeep was a former young dentist representative for the British Dental Association and holds a number of Dental qualifications, including a UK Dental Licence, a Bachelor of Dental Surgery from the University of Liverpool and a range of postgraduate achievements. He explained Toothpick to Business of Dentistry in 2013.