03 Apr Looking after your children’s teeth
We often see children in our practice with teeth that have large unrestorable cavities in them. Usually, when we see these kids, it is their first visit to the dentist which means that not only do they suffer from toothache, but now they are being dragged into a scary new environment, complete with strange people doing funny and sometimes sore things to them. It causes so much anxiety to both parents and children and most people do not realise that it is not just ‘one of those things’, but something that is easy to avoid.
Preventing cavities start at home and it is every parent’s responsibility to look after and care for their children’s teeth as they do the rest of their bodies. So many parents give small children, who is unable to even hold a pencil correct, the full responsibility to clean their teeth. Some seem unconcerned about baby teeth as they know kids will only later get their permanent set of teeth.
This stance is mostly due to being uneducated themselves about the importance of looking after their children’s baby teeth and the importance of developing good dental habits at a young age. Here are some of Dr Christa Engelbrecht’s top tips on how to look after your children’s teeth.
Start brushing as soon as teeth start to come through, at around 6 months of age, using an age appropriate toothpaste following the instructions on how much to use as prescribed on the packet. Night time brushing is the most important time, and brush on at least one other occasion. Aim for 2 minutes each time, encourage your child to spit out but don’t rinse the toothpaste, supervising brushing until your child is at least 7. Remember that your child will only can brush properly when they can hold a pencil correctly so make it a team effort until then.
Yes, you heard it, the earlier you start the better. We continuously see problems between the back baby teeth in children and this is easily avoided if you start flossing your child’s teeth from a young age. Our top tip is to sit on the floor crossing your legs and let your child lie with their head on your lap. You will have better access and visibility, and if done at least once per week, can make all the difference. Once they can hold a pencil correctly they should be able to manage this on their own with supervision from a parent.
Aim for nothing to eat or drink except water in the last hour before bed. When we sleep our saliva production reduces and harmful acid stays around the teeth for longer at night. It may be impractical to do this with younger children but as your child increases in age, start eliminating the bedtime and night feeds.
Only ever give milk or plain water in a bottle and introduce free-flow sippy cups from around 6 months, anything else in a bottle, such as juice or tea, can predispose teeth to ‘bottle feeding syndrome’ which is fast developing decay of the front teeth especially caused by bottle use. Sugary drinks have no place in a child’s daily diet. From age 1, drinking from a bottle should be discouraged.
Reduce the amount and frequency of sugar intake, stick to meal times only for treats if you are going to give them, once per day maximum. Avoid adding sugar, honey or any other natural or artificial sweetener to weaning foods or drinks. ‘No added sugar’ doesn’t mean ‘no sugar’ -some of these products can contain a large amount of natural sugar and may also contain artificial sweeteners. Dried fruits, particularly raisins, and smoothies can contain lots of natural sugar, so things perceived as a “healthy” snack can alone contain children’s recommended daily allowance of sugar.
Prolonged use of a dummy, thumb and/or finger sucking can be associated with speech and dental disturbances. Teeth can get a gap at the front (an open bite) or the top teeth can stick out more (an overjet). A general recommendation is to stop dummy use by one, two may be a more realistic goal for parents, as long as you are working on reducing and stopping use. Other habits such as thumb and/or finger sucking should also be monitored and reduced around the age of two. As children grow rapidly around this stage, dental disturbances usually tend to correct themselves, but the earlier the use is stopped, the more likely this is to occur. If prolonged, severe damage can be caused by these habits, leading to complex dental and orthodontic treatment when your child is older.
Parents are encouraged to take children to a dentist when their teeth start to come through and ideally by their second birthday. Yearly visits are recommended and seeing the hygienist from a young age beneficial in developing good dental habits for life. Because looking after your child’s teeth is not just beneficial to having a beautiful smile, but it contributes to a healthy body and healthy habits for life.