Looking after children’s teeth can be really tricky & getting support with your baby’s dental health can be a challenge, especially during these covid times so not only is it a good idea to get into good habits as early as possible, it will relieve your dental health anxiety too!
So you’ve had a baby, and you jump onto the really steep learning curve that is parenting. There are a million things you have to learn, fix, & juggle each and every day. It can feel that just as you’re getting the hang of one part, something new, like weaning, arrives.
Weaning is a massive step for most parents, and as if that isn’t challenging enough, it’s usually around the same time that their first teeth appear. This means that weaning is also a time when you might need to start thinking about cleaning….their teeth (see what we did there). So, Katie & Charlotte have joined forces to promote our #wean&clean campaign to spread the message far & wide.
When to start brushing
As soon as the first tooth erupts, brush twice a day; ideally before breakfast and before bed. Babies usually get their first teeth around 6 months, and they keep coming until they are around 33 months. Teething can be very painful and distressing for both parents and baby (for those of you that have had a wisdom tooth erupt you will know the pain of an erupting tooth, for babies this can happen for 4 or more teeth at once!). There are loads of amazing products out there that will help, but in our experience cuddles and calpol are the most effective (read on for more teething tips).
How to start brushing
Brushing at this age is simply to get fluoride toothpaste in your baby’s mouth and get them used to the routine. Don’t panic if they resist, or if you can’t brush for 2 minutes. They only have a few teeth, to begin with, stay positive and use this time to form a routine.
Toothpaste is so important. Fluoride in toothpaste will make your baby’s teeth stronger and more resistant to damage from bacteria (these bacteria form holes in teeth). Make sure the toothpaste tube has your child’s age on the side, this ensures the toothpaste is the correct fluoride strength.
Fluoride in toothpaste
Many parents ask me about the risks of including Fluoride in toothpaste, and, understandably, have concerns about this from something they may have read online. I always advise parents to use a flat smear of toothpaste (it’s really barely any toothpaste to start with), brush gently and encourage spitting. Toothpaste containing Fluoride is completely safe, as long as it is not swallowed. If you are worried your child might be swallowing the toothpaste (& let’s face it, they probably are, it tastes great after all!), see your dentist who can give you specific advice. For most of my patients who are worried about their toothpaste easters I advise;
- Manage how much toothpaste goes on the toothbrush, for children under 3, use only a flat smear of toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice, smush it into the bristles, and use the two brush technique (let them have a toothpaste-less brush while you hold on to the other brush with toothpaste).
- I’ve met so many children who eat the toothpaste straight off the toothbrush and ask for more, don’t give in to them! Once it’s gone, don’t use more.
- Realistically it takes until they are around 3 to have the spitting tekkers nailed, so our job is to minimise the amount of toothpaste until they have mastered it.
Habits are, in my opinion, the key to health. So here are some great ways to help you and your child create good teeth habits.
By adding toothbrushing to bathtime (or any part of your daily routine), children will automatically link the two. Stacking relieves you of the “need to remember” if you already always get in the bath before bed, that is your cue to brush your teeth.
start small, you wouldn’t run for an hour if you decided one day to take up running, you would perhaps run a bit, walk a bit. So with brushing, just start off doing what you can manage building towards a more thorough brush.
Lead by example
60 % of what our children learn is from modelling how we behave, so most babies will mimic what you are doing as a parent. You can try brushing at the same time as them, to demonstrate and inspire them.
children, and babies like structure and routine. This is great news for teeth because consistency with oral hygiene will result in a very healthy mouth. Try to create consistency in your routines where possible.
Visiting the Dentist
If you already go to the dentist, try and take your baby with you for your check-ups. This gets them used to the way the dentist surgery smells, sounds and looks.
The British Society of Paediatric Dentists advises that children have a check-up when their first tooth erupts or when they turn 1, whichever is sooner (2). Your dentists, hygienists, and nurses will be able to give you advice about your oral health routines, teething, and food.
Keeping your baby’s mouth clean
Before the teeth have erupted, you can use baby dental wipes. They are soothing and can also be stored in the fridge so they have an additional cooling effect on the gums.
Once teeth have started to erupt, we advise brushing the gums with a soft toothbrush, this helps your baby transition to the sensation of a toothbrush, as well as getting toothpaste (& fluoride) on their new teeth.
- Chewing provides a soothing distraction for babies, and offers a gentle pressure massage for the gums, which can alleviate pain. Most teething products can be kept in the fridge (NEVER the freezer) to provide additional relief.
- Cold foods like yoghurt, hummus, watermelon and cucumber batons can be super soothing to inflamed gums. Mushy foods like a mashed banana or avocado – even if your little one has mastered tough textures – can also be a great solution. Just avoid anything with too much acid (tomatoes, citrus fruits) if your little one is teething or seems to react to these, as these can make things worse for sore mouths!
- If you’ve been weaning your baby onto solids, the pain and discomfort of teething may put them off their food completely for a while and this is very normal. They may prefer more milk or more specific foods, compared to normal – this is ok and you can offer a little more of what they want, but try to keep up a variety and try to continue to offer a mealtime routine as you move through the weaning journey.
- Instead, try not to stress, and avoid forcing them to eat if they’re not in the mood. Mealtime should remain a positive, reassuring experience for them. They’ll come back to their solids when the pain has subsided!
- Cuddles & Love
Other Options to consider
- If your baby is in pain, you may want to give them a sugar-free painkilling medicine. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be given to relieve teething symptoms in babies and young children aged 3 months or older.
- Children under 16 years old should not have aspirin.
- Always follow the instructions that come with the medicine.
- If you’re not sure, speak to your GP or pharmacist.
Despite limited evidence of their efficiency I have met lots of parents, including dental professionals, who swear by homeopathic remedies. I would always recommend trying the above options first, however if you want to try these please see your pharmacist as they can advise ones that are licensed for use in the UK.
A recent study by the British Society of Dentists (1) found that 9 out 14 teething products licensed for use in the UK contained sugar, alcohol or numbing gel, all of which have potentially harmful side effects for babies, so it’s best to stay clear of these until better guidance has been issued.
If you decide these extra remedies are right for you, when buying teething products such as homeopathic remedies & teething gels, buy from a pharmacist and never from the internet.
Ultimately teething is a self-limiting normal physiological process that will pass (even if it feels like it won’t). So, do whatever you need to get through it, and as always lean on your dental professionals for advice and help if you need it.
- Monaghan, N. Teething products may be harmful to health. Br Dent J 227, 485–487 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-019-0715-7
Written by Katie Perkins BDS (Bris) MSc (Bham) MJDF RCS (Eng) MPDC (Ed)
CEO of HaBox & General Dentist
Katie is a dentist of 11 years, steparent & co-founder of HaBox. We created HaBox as two dental professionals who are seriously passionate about doing something to halt the epidemic of tooth decay in children. HaBox harnesses habit psychology to motivate children with practical tools and engaging rewards that transform the process of teeth-brushing from a bathroom battle to an automatic habit. This is not just toothpaste in a box, it’s a dental subscription that actually makes kids want to brush their teeth – yes, really!
Get your own baby HaBox here
Follow @myhaboxuk for more tips, support & advice from Katie & her HaBox team!