What to do and use
This is part two of my blog series with Jemma Hook, The Mummy Dentist, you can read part one all about WHEN to introduce your little one to teeth brushing and dentist checks here. Winning smiles: Looking after young children’s teeth.
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 “what” questions when it comes to little one’s dental health!
Ok so what sort of toothbrush should I be using for my child?
Age-appropriate toothbrushes for children are dependent on 3 factors – size of the head, strength of the bristles and handle design.
A baby or young child’s toothbrush should only have a small head with soft textured bristles. The head of the brush needs to be small enough to fit comfortably into a small mouth and able to move around to clean the back molar teeth safely. The softer bristles ensure that the tooth enamel and gums aren’t damaged, they are also ideal for when baby just wants to chew the brush head (often done instinctively to massage the gums during teething). Many silicone teething toys mimic this with little raised bobbles: this is great for younger babies to introduce a different texture in their mouth.
The handles on child’s toothbrushes are made with their little fingers in mind – they are often shorter and broader than that of an adult toothbrush. This is to make it easier for the child to grip on to themselves and most will have a rubberised soft grip to help too. If you look at ranges of toothbrushes on the shelves you can see how the shapes of the handles changes as age increases.
Should I buy special toothbrushes for my baby?
All leading brands will have brushes that are marketed to a specific child age range taking into account the above factors. Often they are brightly coloured and character or novelty brushes can help engage toddlers in brushing. Remember to keep an eye out for fraying of the bristles and replace the brush regularly – normally around every 3 months.
With regards to electric brushes for young children they are not required, in fact the sensation of an electric brush in the mouth may be overwhelming for young babies. However as your child gets older and is doing more independent brushing then sometimes an electric brush can be good as the novelty effect encourages brushing and help optimize cleaning time. Whilst it’s not an essential tool if you do decide to purchase an electric toothbrush, make sure it’s age appropriate in terms of head size/bristles.
What toothpaste should I choose for my child?
Fluoride concentration is the key here. Fluoride is a mineral that acts on the tooth surface to remineralise/strengthen it after sugar and acid attacks can demineralise/weaken it. The evidence base overwhelmingly shows that fluoride is a vital component for preventing tooth decay. Fluoride concentration in toothpastes is measured in ‘ppm – parts per million’. This is what influences which toothpastes are suitable for young children to use. Then it all comes down to the amount of paste placed on the brush as we don’t want little ones swallowing too much excess.
The guidance is as follows;
Up to 3 years
- Use toothpaste containing no less than 1,000ppm of fluoride
- Use only a flat smear of toothpaste
- Use toothpaste containing more than 1,000ppm of fluoride (or family toothpaste containing between 1,350ppm and 1,500ppm fluoride)
- Use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste
- Use fluoride toothpaste containing between 1,350ppm and 1,500ppm of fluoride
- Use no more than a 1cm strip of toothpaste
- Spit out after brushing and don’t rinse
Remember most leading brands will have factored all this into the toothpastes that they are marketing towards babies and children. But it’s worth just checking the ppm on the box and be aware of how much paste you are placing on the brush.
Can I use my adult toothpaste on a child?
So for children 3 and upwards most leading brands contain 1350-1500ppm which makes them ideal for all the family to use. Remember it’s all about the amount that you place on the brush. In fact using a normal family toothpaste often makes it easier rather than having to change over to a different toothpaste when adult teeth start erupting. For 0-3 year olds the advice is ‘no less than 1000ppm’ so an age-appropriate paste will be suitable. A family strength one may also be used but your dentist can discuss this with you based on where you live and your child’s individual assessment. Either way if you introduce a gentle ‘mild mint’ flavour from the beginning children are more likely to accept the taste. Just be sure to keep toothpaste out of reach of children as you don’t want them licking or eating it from the tube!
Also we would not advise using any charcoal, herbal or ‘whitening’ toothpaste on your little one. They often don’t have the correct fluoride levels and can be too abrasive for baby teeth which have thinner enamel
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Next week we will talk a little more about the HOW and WHY of tooth brushing!
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!