The saying ‘prevention is better than a cure’ is never truer than when talking about tooth decay in young children. The 2 key areas for preventing development of tooth decay are: diet-related advice + good oral hygiene habits. Charlotte does an amazing job on this blog of inspiring healthy eating for youngsters so I’m writing a series of blog posts for SR Nutrition about teeth health and looking after little one’s dental health from a more practical angle.
These blog posts will be broken down into bite sized information, starting this week with advice on WHEN we need to brush baby’s teeth and visit the dentist.
Looking after children’s teeth
Good oral health is an essential part of your child’s overall health and wellbeing too. Toothache in children can cause disruption to eating, sleeping, education and socialising. The baby or ‘primary’ set of teeth will fall out eventually but they do have important functions such as feeding, speech, guiding the position of adult teeth and of course a happy smile! So with that in mind, let’s get started answering all the “when” questions when it comes to little one’s dental health!
When do I need to start brushing my child’s teeth?
As soon as they appear! The average age for a first tooth to erupt is around 6 months old and it’s normally the lower central tooth. So this is around the time that you might be weaning your baby too. As with all milestones though some children get their first tooth earlier, some later, so don’t be concerned if they don’t come through bang on 6 months. It’s more than likely there will be some obvious symptoms of teething before the teeth come through such as chewing fingers, drooling, rosy red cheeks signalling that teeth are on the way. Don’t delay brushing – as soon as you can see that a tooth has erupted though your baby’s gums start brushing them twice daily.
At this age your baby will be trying to put everything and anything in their mouth as they are learning about the world through sensory exploration. So you can let them chew a baby toothbrush or teething toy even before the teeth break through. And for those of you who are super keen then there are baby specific dental wipes on the market –which can be used onto a baby’s gums before any teeth even come through. These are softly textured, sterile, disposable wipes that you use with your finger to gently clean gums. There are three main benefits to these wipes: one it gets your baby used to a different texture in their mouth before a toothbrush is introduced, two they have been shown to reduce gum inflammation which may help with teething and finally they contain Xylitol which can work against bacteria. Use of dental wipes is not essential though – whereas brushing teeth totally is!
When should I take my child for a dental check-up?
The British Society for Paediatric Dentistry UK recommends that all children are seen by a dentist before their first birthday. Even though there may not be many teeth to count an early check up is important for several reasons;
- ️acclimatise – coming from an early age builds familiarity & confidence. If children are not brought until school age they often have preconceived fears
- ️advice – regarding brushing, diet & dental habits. Remember tooth decay is a preventable disease.
- ️assessment – we can check tooth development & patterns.
- ️access – being registered with a dental practice is important in case of arising dental problems or emergencies
- ️family ethos – your children can learn by example from each other & yourself…a family outing to the dentist can be fun!
How often should be child be taken to the dentist?
Once your child has had a dental check-up they will be assessed and based on several risk factors a recall interval will be recommended. Normally children at high risk of dental issues will be seen every 3 months (4 times a year) and those at low risk are seen 6 monthly (twice a year).
Many dental problems such as decay or missing teeth can often be detected early and so it’s important to go for regular check-ups rather than waiting for a problem to become obvious such as toothache or a visible hole. Your family dental practice also has an active role in prevention so you don’t need to treat it like your GPs surgery where you only go if you are having a problem.
What makes a child high risk?
There are several factors that may mean your child is classed as ‘high risk’ at the dentist.
- Firstly your child’s own dental history is a major factor; having had previous tooth decay, a child who has suffered dental trauma such as a knock to a tooth, if your child has required dental treatment in the past or we identify early signs of decay.
- Then there can be issues with the teeth themselves including; defects in enamel structure, deep grooves in teeth, tooth anomalies such as extra teeth or missing teeth, tooth in an odd position, or a family history of certain dental problems.
- There are also other wider factors taken into consideration such as; your child’s diet in terms of food and drinks, use of some medications containing sugar, special healthcare needs, learning difficulties. Alongside this habits such prolonged use of a bottle, dummy or thumb sucking may also be cause for concern.
The risk is not designed to be a label, it’s there to identify children who may benefit from more regular professional advice, monitoring and preventative treatment.
Ultimately the best way to check if everything is OK with your little one’s teeth is to visit the dentist before their first birthday and chat through any questions or concerns you have.
This post is really timely, up in time for Easter and we will continue writing posts about dental health and your child after Easter too, so keep your eyes peeled for those!
This post was written by Jemma Hook BDS (Hons), MFDS RSC (Ed), PGCert with support from SR Nutrition.
Jemma is a NHS family dentist and clinical teacher in Paediatric Dentistry. She started the instagram @themummydentist whilst on maternity leave last year to promote oral health for mums & babies. And also to find support in the breastfeeding/weaning/sleep deprivation chat!