Information & Advice
Teeth cleaning: when to start
You can start cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear by rubbing them with a little bit of clean cloth, wrapped around your finger.
As more teeth appear, you can continue brushing by using a small, soft-headed baby toothbrush.
How to clean teeth
Once children have a full set of baby teeth – often by the age of around two and a half – they may want to start brushing their teeth themselves. Dentists recommend you supervise your child’s brushing until they reach the age of seven. Stick to a small, soft-headed brush. Any gimmick on a toothbrush, such as those that come decorated with cartoon characters, is helpful if it prompts your child to engage with brushing their teeth. Electric toothbrushes – as well as being good for teeth-cleaning – can also encourage children to brush.
Dentists suggest children brush their teeth every morning and night.
“Before bed is the most important time, otherwise any food will sit on the teeth and stagnate at night," says Trevor Scott, an NHS dentist with more than 35 years’ experience of running a family practice near Newcastle.
"I usually advise children to brush the chewing surface on the back teeth first. This area can tend to decay first because it's full of pits and hollows where food can become trapped. It’s important to get a good concentration of fluoride toothpaste into these vulnerable areas. Then brush either side of all the other teeth."
Children under three should use a thin film of paste, while those over three should use a pea-sized blob of toothpaste. Don’t let your child eat toothpaste straight from the tube.
Fluoride – what is it and why might I consider it?
Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in small quantities many foods and drinking water. Studies have shown that when fluoride is added to water, it can reduce tooth decay by 40-60%. However only 10 -12% of the British population have fluoride added to their water and its addition is seen as controversial by some. Nonetheless, the British Dental Health Foundation points to recent studies carried out for the government by York University and the Medical Research Council that have failed to find any evidence that fluoride added to water causes harmful side effects.
Check with your water company whether they add fluoride. If your local area doesn’t have fluoride in its water supply, you may also want to consider giving your child fluoride tablets or ask your dentist about fluoride varnishes. Discuss tablets with your pharmacist or dentist to ensure you give the correct dosage. In addition, the NHS recommends that all adults and children should use a toothpaste containing fluoride.
Avoid regular helpings of sugary foods
To protect your child’s teeth, try to reduce the frequency of sugary servings in their diet. Sugary drinks, biscuits, cakes, toffee and puddings are all best kept to a minimum during the early years. Surprisingly, foodstuffs like baked beans can be quite high in sugar, while sugar-free versions of soft drinks may be quite acidic. Perhaps confine sugary treats to mealtimes and try to offer your child a healthy alternative as a snack or treat.
Taking my child to the dentist’s
You can take your baby for its first check-up as soon as their teeth start to appear – perhaps accompanying you on your visits. However, around two-and-a-half or three is a good time to start developing a regular routine, as often as they need. That way, the dentist can watch their teeth developing and advise on how best to care for them. They can also, if necessary, undertake preventative treatment such as rubbing fluoride varnishes on the teeth or putting a sealant on the molars to protect them. Some adults have a fear of the dentist. This may stem from their own childhood experiences. However, it's important not to pass this on to a child. Nowadays, a small cavity can often be treated without extracting the tooth. Your child's first experience of the dentist is more likely to be positive if they are taken along early in life, before any problems have a chance to develop. Ask around your friends to find a good, family-friendly dentist.
If your child knocks a tooth out accidentally, don’t panic! Most dentists would not recommend trying to re-implant a baby tooth, in case an infection damages the adult tooth underneath it. See a dentist as soon as possible. They may need to examine the child to check if any fragments of tooth are still in the gum. If it's an adult tooth that has been knocked out, first try to locate the missing tooth. Try not to pick it up by the roots which are very fragile. Go to a dentist or hospital as soon as possible. The best places to keep the tooth in transit is either in a small glass of milk or, if the tooth is clean and your child is old enough not to swallow the tooth, tell them to keep it inside their mouth in their cheek until you reach a dentist.
What if my child needs a brace?
Once your child's adult teeth have grown in they may, if their teeth are crowded or crooked, be referred to an orthodontist. This is a specialist consultant who will look at how best to move your child's teeth into the correct position - for example with braces. This is about more than just appearances. Straight teeth are actually healthier than crooked ones, since food is less likely to become trapped there. Your dentist will advise.
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