It’s really important for kids to get into good dental habits from an early age. Every child cuts their teeth at a different rate, but as a general rule, at about the age of one, you’ll see two rows of milk teeth four little incisors on the top jaw and four on the bottom. Tooth decay can be very painful for children, and decay in milk teeth damages the adult teeth developing inside the gums. There are two ways to maintain good dental hygiene and strong teeth – through regular brushing and sensible eating habits.
- This means cleaning your child’s teeth twice a day, once just before bed.
- Don’t brush teeth straight after a meal as it weakens the enamel – wait for at least 30 minutes after eating to avoid damage.
- Let your child have a go at brushing but you will need to clean too (call it ‘checking’ if it helps) until your child is eight years old.
- Clean each tooth front and back using very small circles.
- Don’t forget to gently brush the gums too.
- Make sure you use fluoride toothpaste for children over the age of two, as recommended by the HSE. If your child is under the age of you should not use toothpaste unless you have been advised to do so by a dentist.
- Use a toothbrush targeted for your child’s age.
- Register with a dentist and go for regular check-ups.
- Change your toddler’s toothbrush when the bristles start to splay.
Eating habits for strong teeth
- Limit sweet food – like sugary puddings – to after the main meal to minimise decay.
- Don’t let them eat or drink sugary drinks in the half hour before bedtime. This is because production of saliva – with its neutral pH – is reduced when we sleep, limiting its ability to neutralise plaque acid.
- Choose water or milk for your toddler’s everyday drinks. Fruit juice can cause tooth decay, and fizzy drinks contain very high levels of sugar and are full of empty calories that provide no other nutrition.
- Don’t add juice to your baby’s bottle – the teat keeps the sugary drinks in contact with the teeth for longer than if your child was drinking out of a cup or with a straw.
- Graduate your toddler onto a beaker or open cup if they haven’t learnt to use one already.
- Opt for low-sugar snacks in between meals, like fruit and cheese. Watch out for dried fruit, like raisins – they contain concentrated and high levels of fruit sugar, and can get stuck in your toddler’s molars.
For reluctant brushers
If your toddler isn’t keen on cleaning their teeth, try letting them do the first or last part, while you take over the middle section for about two minutes. Be really gentle – it can be uncomfortable having someone else clean your teeth and you don’t want to put them off the whole thing. Inject some fun into brushing with a novelty toothbrush, for example one that lights up. Other ideas: an egg timer to time the brushing session and turning on the radio to brush for the duration of a song.
See dentalhealth.ie for more tips and information on how to care for your child’s teeth.