What does dental health for kids involve? What should you do to ensure the dental health of your child as they grow?
This section will help you answer these questions.
“Why look after baby teeth? They will only fall out after all?!”
A common misconception is that baby teeth are not important. Here are several reasons why this is not true and why baby teeth play an important role in dental health for kids:
- Baby teeth are important for allowing your child to eat a healthy, varied diet.
- They are important for speech development in kids.
- Decay in baby teeth can lead to pain while eating, and an upset child. It can also lead to abscesses which can damage the adult tooth that lies below the baby tooth.
- Not looking after the them can result in a child needing a lot of dental treatment. Treatment can be upsetting for a child and although painless, this upset can lead to a lingering fear of the dentist.
- A general anesthetic may be needed if a child needs any baby teeth extracted. Needing a general anesthetic for something that could have been prevented is obviously not ideal.
- Loss of baby teeth can lead to loss of space for the adult teeth, resulting in misalignment and an increased need for orthodontic work. Looking after the baby teeth sets kids up for a life-time routine of looking after their smile and resulting good dental health.
Armed with the awareness of the importance of baby teeth, read on for advice on looking after your child’s teeth.
Ensuring Dental Health for Kids: 5 Key Points
Ensuring the dental health for kids is of course up to the parents. It is also the parent’s role to ensure that their children learn how to look after their own teeth. Brushing should begin as soon as the teeth come through, so kids will soon learn to accept this as part of their routine. Likewise a healthy tooth-kind diet should be introduced as soon as the child begins to eat solids.
In general, begin early and develop a set routine for your child’s dental health. These are the 5 key points to be aware of:
- Diet. What your child eats and drinks is very important. Keep sugary foods and drinks to a minimum. Otherwise decay can set in, even if they are being brushed daily. Sugary snacks between meals are particularly damaging. Acidic food and drinks can erode the baby teeth. See below for more advice or jump to the sections on healthy diet for your teeth, dental erosion and tooth decay
- Brush your child’s teeth twice a day. Use fluoride toothpaste and change the toothbrush regularly. See the page on brushing baby teeth.
- Attend the dentist for regular check-ups from an early age. Take them along with you at your own check-ups to get them used to going to the dentist.
- Fluoride supplements may help protect your child’s teeth in the long term. This need will vary according to the amount of fluoride in your water supply. Ask your dentist for advice on this. See more below or visit our page on fluoride for more advice.
- Fissure sealants can be applied to some teeth to help protect them after they enter the mouth. There is a lot more advice in our page on fissure sealants.
Dental Health for Kids: Taking Your Child to the Dentist
An important part of ensuring the dental health of kids is taking them to the dentist. Ideally you should start taking your child to the dentist early. It is a good idea to bring them along with you as you attend for your regular check-up. This will allow your child to become used to the surroundings, the smells and sounds etc. of the dental practice. They will therefore know they have nothing to fear when the time comes for their first check-up.
The ideal time for your child’s first check-up is probably around age 2½- 3, although different dentists have differing views on this. Ask your own dentist for advice on this. As mentioned, the sooner the child visits the dentist, even if just coming along for a parent’s check-up, the less anxious they will be.
At the check-ups, your dentist will examine the teeth and gums to make sure they are healthy, offer advice on caring for the teeth and answer any queries you may have. A specialist kid’s dentist is known as a pedodontist. Your child may need to attend one if recommended by your family dentist.
Fear of the dentist
Fear of the dentist is something that a child will pick up from parents and siblings. It is important that you do not let any anxieties you may have be passed on to the child. Try to speak positively about going to the dentist and answer any questions your child may have. Children can pick up such fear very easily in those around them. Be aware of your own language and behavior when talking about the dentist. Common sense should prevail.
Be supportive and positive about trips to the dentist, especially if it is their first visit. By getting the child used to the dentist early, any nerves can be reduced.
Dental Health for Kids: Diet Advice
Diet is the most important factor in terms of keeping the dental health for kids.
The frequency of harmful foods is more important than the amount. Therefore snacking should be kept to a minimum. Having sugary foods/drinks every few hours will mean the teeth are constantly under attack. The teeth need a break in between meals to recover and re-strengthen.
- Most harmful foods include chocolate, sweets/candy, sugary breakfast cereals, yoghurt.
- Most harmful drinks are fizzy sodas/pop and fruit juices. These are not only high in sugar which causes decay but are also very acidic. Acidic foods/drinks cause tooth erosion.
- Many foods contain ‘hidden sugars’. So foods you may think harmless may be very damaging to teeth. Check the labels on foods for sugar content. For example, many processed baby foods are very high in sugars.
- Occasional treats, say once week, are fine. Treats are best taken just after a regular meal, e.g. as a dessert.
- Rinse out with water/milk after a sugary food/drink.
- If your child has decay, they are getting too much sugar in their diet. Some kids’ teeth will decay more readily than others, but sugar is always the cause.
Dental Health for Kids: Fluoride and its Value
Since the introduction of fluoride into toothpaste, the amount of tooth decay in children has reduced dramatically. Fluoride acts by strengthening the teeth as they form and re-strengthening them after they have come under attack. This means teeth are less likely to decay when fluoride is present.
A smear of children’s fluoride toothpaste for babies and a pea-sized amount for young children will help protect the teeth. Make sure the child does not rinse out after brushing, as this will clear away the useful fluoride. Also make sure the toothpaste is not swallowed
If there is no fluoride in the water in your area, fluoride supplements may help your child’s teeth in the long term. These may be given from about 6 months. Ask your dentist for advice.
Too much fluoride in the young can lead to fluorosis. Here the teeth can have white patches or yellow marks. The risk of this is low if the above guidelines in terms of amount of fluoride are followed.
See our page on fluoride and your teeth for more advice.
Toothache in Children
Toothache in children is obviously painful and can be upsetting. Tooth decay is the main cause of toothache. Teeth will decay when your child is getting sugar too much and/or too often in their diet.
Prevention of toothache is much more desirable than needing dental treatment, especially in the young. Prevention is achieved by:
- Healthy diet. Low in sugars and acidic food/drinks.
- Low amount of snacking between meals.
- Brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste.
Dental Health for Babies
Get into dental routine early with your baby. This is very important and makes things easier in the long term.
Some general advice for baby’s dental health:
- When giving the baby a drink only give milk or water. Do not add sugar or put sugary drinks/juices into the bottle.
- ‘Bottle decay’ is caused by babies who are given a bottle of milk/juice to sip on when put to sleep. Bottle decay can very quickly cause huge destruction to a baby’s teeth.
- When introducing solid foods, begin with a healthy tooth-kind diet. By doing this from the start, your baby will accept these foods much more easily.
- Foods that are both good for general health as well as for teeth include fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, fish, meats, pasta and rice.
- Avoid sugary foods. A lot of foods, especially processed foods, may contain hidden sugars. Always check the label of foods for sugar content.
- If a baby knocks a tooth, contact your dentist. Baby teeth can often go dark after being knocked. This is usually not a problem unless they get infected. Always seek the advice of a dentist.
Thumb-sucking and soothers/dummies
If possible, this should be discouraged. If these habits persist, they may cause problems with how the teeth line up. If these problems do develop, they will often clear up automatically once the habit is stopped. If they do not clear up, an orthodontist may be needed to treat the problem by re-aligning the teeth.
Also, never add anything sugary to a dummy. Some parents have added honey, fruit juice, syrups etc. to dummy’s at bedtime to help soothe a child. This can lead to severe decay of the baby teeth.
Now you may wish to read our page on brushing your child’s teeth.