Simple ways to protect your child’s teeth

Did you know that, according to the World Health Organization, tooth decay is the most common ailment in the world, even more common than the common cold? While you can’t do much to keep your child from getting the sniffles, tooth decay is entirely preventable.

Dentists recommend that all parents learn these basics about caring for their children’s teeth.

Protect your child’s milk teeth

Yes, your child’s milk teeth will eventually fall out, but healthy milk teeth set a strong foundation for your child’s permanent teeth.

Milk teeth serve as placeholders for adult teeth. When a decayed milk tooth is extracted, its neighbouring tooth may drift or tilt into the gap. When an adult tooth reaches the surface, it may rotate, migrate to the wrong position, or even become permanently buried beneath the gum.

Dental hygiene should begin even before your child’s first tooth appears. As part of your child’s daily bath routine, gently wipe their gum pads with a moistened soft gauze pad or a clean cloth wrapped around the finger.

Get rid of the bottle

The bottle may appear to be essential to your child’s night-time routine. However, when your child falls asleep with a bottle in their mouth, milk accumulates and coats their teeth. Instead of swallowing the milk and ‘washing’ the teeth with saliva, Streptococcus, the primary decay-forming bacteria in the mouth, converts the milk sugars (lactose) into acid. This dissolves the enamel of the teeth, causing decay.

Around six months, the arrival of the baby’s first tooth often coincides with the introduction of solids. Now that your baby is fuller for longer periods of time, you can gradually separate sleep time from feeding time. Six months is also a good age to begin introducing a cup and sticking with it until your baby is comfortable handling and drinking from it, which should happen between 12 and 14 months of age. 

Take your child to the dentist before their first birthday

Because fear is the most common issue when working on toddlers, all paediatric dentistry associations recommend that your child’s first visit to the dentist be within six months of their first tooth emerging or by their first birthday – even if your child has good, healthy teeth.

An early visit, rather than a visit due to pain or tooth decay, allows your child to become acquainted with the dental environment. It also allows your dentist to establish rapport with your child, which makes dental procedures easier. Following that, children should visit the dentist every six months. Regular appointments will ensure that problems are identified as soon as possible.

Don’t leave cavities or toothache

Pain, sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks, and pressure sensitivity are all symptoms of tooth decay. If left untreated, dental decay, a bacterial infection of the tooth, will grow larger and spread from tooth to tooth.

If you suspect tooth decay or have noticed white-spot discolouration (a precursor to decay), book an appointment with your child’s dentist as soon as possible.

Encourage your child to brush their teeth

Toddlers and young children lack the manual dexterity required to brush properly. You’ll have to supervise and brush them until your child is at least six years old.

Provide water with meals and snacks

Some foods are more likely to ‘feed’ decay-forming bacteria than others. Carbohydrates, ranging from wholesome carbs like cereals and high-fibre crackers to high-sugar foods like chewy sweets, cookies, and cake (which provide a lot of refined sugar with very little nutritional value), provide bacteria with a veritable feast. When these foods stick to our teeth, the acid-producing bacteria remain on the tooth surface for an extended time, causing those areas of the tooth to decay.

Nonetheless, wholesome carbohydrates are an important part of your child’s diet, so serve them water with snacks like breads, crackers, pasta, and dried fruit. Water ‘dilutes’ the acidity and helps to dislodge stuck food. 

Limit fruit juice and fizzy drinks

Fruit juices and other sweetened juices, particularly fizzy drinks, contain both acid and sugar, which is a particularly bad combination for teeth, causing rapid demineralization of the tooth structure. Dentists recommend parents avoid offering these drinks to children, especially before bedtime. If drinking only water isn’t an option, use a straw when drinking juice to reduce the amount of time the teeth are exposed to sugar and acid.

Restrict frequent snacking

Constant ‘grazing’ feeds the acid-producing bacteria that cause tooth decay and is ultimately worse for your baby’s teeth than a sugary treat. The frequency of sugar and carb snacking causes more tooth damage than the amount of sugar consumed. So, instead of starch or sugar, serve fresh vegetables, dairy, and lean protein snacks like nuts and turkey.

Teach your child how to floss

When your child’s teeth are touching, a toothbrush cannot clean the surfaces in between the teeth properly. As a result, daily flossing should be part of your child’s oral healthcare routine. Flossing removes plaque from the surfaces of your child’s teeth, aiding in the prevention of bacteria buildup that can lead to cavities, gum disease, and other serious infections.

Tips for putting an end to toothbrush wars

Proper brushing technique is essential. Brushing properly is more important than brushing for an extended period of time. Teach your child how to brush all surfaces of the teeth, including the top, front, and back.

  • Begin by wiping your baby’s gums with gauze. It may make the transition to tooth brushing easier.
  • If your baby refuses to brush his first teeth, try using tooth wipes until your child is more comfortable with an oral hygiene routine.
  • Babies enjoy imitating. Allow them to observe you brushing your teeth. 
  • Allow older toddlers to select their own toothbrush.
  • Select a toothpaste flavour that your child enjoys.
  • Make flossing fun. There are a range of different floss options for kids.


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