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Dental Health Q&As

Good dental habits are best started early on to pave the way for good, healthy teeth throughout your child’s life.

Start your child now on a lifetime of good dental habits.

When a baby is born, the first set of teeth is already there, just underneath the gums. These are the primary teeth, or ‘baby teeth’. The second set of teeth is already beginning to form as well. These are the permanent teeth, sometimes called ‘adult teeth’.

Usually the bottom front teeth will begin to appear between four and twelve months of age. By the time your baby is about 3 years of age; all 20 ‘baby’ teeth will be present.

To ensure your baby or toddler’s teeth grow to be healthy and strong, read through our helpful dental health questions and answers below.

When should I take my child for his/her first dental visit?

Dental problems can begin early on and the earlier the dental visit, the better the chance of preventing dental problems.

Both the European Academy of Paediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry recommend that you should take your child for his/her first dental check when the first tooth appears, or before his/her first birthday.

Why should I take my child to the dentist so early?

In the past, people thought children did not need professional care of their teeth until the child was at least of school-going age.  But tooth decay can begin in infancy and decay in baby teeth increases a child’s risk of experiencing pain, infection and nutritional problems, as well as experiencing dental decay in their permanent teeth.

The most important reason to visit a dentist with your child early on is to begin a thorough prevention plan, to avoid problems later on. Dental problems can begin very early on, long before a parent or child might notice anything wrong.  The earlier the first dental visit, the better the chance of preventing dental problems.

With thorough education and preventive care from early on, you have the opportunity to keep your child’s teeth free from dental decay for life. Decay is preventable where good oral health habits are practiced from early on.

What causes dental decay?

Most people will be aware that dental decay can be caused by obvious factors like fizzy drinks or sweets and this is of course the case. However, there are ‘hidden sugars’ present in many other foods, which unfortunately are often marketed at children. Flavoured drinks, diluted drinks, pure fruit drinks and popular snacks such as yogurts can be high in sugar and if taken frequently, can rapidly cause dental decay.

The way your child is taught to care for his or her baby teeth plays a critical role in how they will care for the permanent teeth. Good dental habits established early on will help you and your child take good care of their teeth throughout life, with the emphasis placed firmly on preventing problems.

How can I prevent tooth decay?

‘On-demand’ feeding should be avoided at least after the first primary (baby) teeth begin to erupt and other sources of nutrition have been introduced. The frequency of snacking should be kept to a minimum as it is the number of ‘sugar attacks’ which increase the risk of dental decay. Make sure your child has a balanced diet.

Children should not fall asleep with a bottle containing anything other than water. Do not allow your child to drink juice from a bottle.

After weaning, the child’s main drink should be plain water or plain milk. Sweetened drinks (diluted drinks or ‘pure fruit juices’) should only be offered occasionally as these can be a significant cause of dental decay. Choose healthy snacks such as cheese or fresh fruit.

From the age of about 6 months of age onwards, use a cup rather than a bottle for drinks, always ask for sugar free medicines, and take your child for regular dental check visits.

When should I start cleaning my child’s teeth?

The sooner the better!  Starting at birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush or with a clean cloth and water after feeding.

As soon as the teeth begin to appear, start brushing twice daily using a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush.

Research shows that children who have their teeth brushed regularly from before the age of 1 year are less likely to develop dental decay.

From the age of 2 years, you should use a small smear of children’s toothpaste, which has lower levels of fluoride. Remember that children do not have the manual dexterity to brush their own teeth properly and you will need to do the brushing for them until at least age 8 years. They will of course want to do it themselves, and this can be encouraged to help them develop the ability to brush, however, you will still need to finish the brushing to ensure it has been done properly.

Many small children will resist having their teeth brushed; however, it is essential that you continue to insist on this. Start early and make it a routine so that it’s not an option.

Encourage your child to spit out as much of the toothpaste as possible after brushing but not rinse with water. If you are concerned that your child is swallowing most of the toothpaste, reduce the amount you are using on the toothbrush. Do not allow your child to play with the toothpaste, or dispense it themselves.

Try to make brushing a fun activity, using distraction such as songs, or make up a story or a game about ‘chasing away the germs from the teeth’.

Your dental health

Parents, especially the primary carer, should realise that if they themselves have untreated tooth decay and bleeding gums, the germs that cause these problems will be passed in their saliva to their infants or toddlers. This happens through normal activities of child-care (i.e. sharing spoons, ‘cleaning’ the soother/dummy in your own mouth, baby putting their hands to your mouth, kissing their hands, etc).

Finally, remember these points to help protect teeth:
  1. ‘Low sugar’ or ‘no added sugar’ labels do not mean that the food/drink is sugar-free.
  2. Always ask for sugar-free medicines where possible
  3. If you happen to be anxious about going to the dentist, it is important to realise that your child can sense this and become worried themselves. It is very important that you do not discuss any fears you may have yourself in front of your child. Being positive and supportive in the run-up to a dental visit can help make the experience much more pleasant and easier for you and for your child.
Contributed by Dr Aifric Ni Chaollai, paediatric dentist.
The information provided here is a guide to helping you understand your child’s dental health and does not replace discussion with your dentist.

About the Author

eumom team 

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