How can I care for my child’s teeth?
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Dr Sarah Temple
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A family doctor with more than 20 years experience working with children in both General Practice and Mental Health Services. Trained to run Emotion Coaching Parenting Courses. She has a special interest in the link between child and parental wellbeing.
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Teeth care for children

How can I care for my child's teeth?

A regular teeth-cleaning routine is essential for good dental health. Follow these tips and you can help keep your children's teeth pearly white and free from cavities.
In Short
Avoid fizzy drinks, sweets and fruit juice. These all can cause tooth decay and enamel erosion.

If they do have sweets and fruit juice occasionally as a treat - give them straight after a meal - wait half an hour and then brush their teeth.

After the age of about 7, children can use adult toothpaste - children's brands might not have enough fluoride.

Fluoride content needs to be at least 1,350 - 1,500 ppm for children above 6. Younger children without decay can use a toothpaste with at least 1,000 ppm fluoride.

At least 2 minutes twice a day - use an eggtimer or a free app to make it more fun.

Until your child is at least 9 or 10, you can brush their teeth for them - or at least supervise the brushing. It's better for them to have properly brushed teeth than insist on them doing this on their own.

You can start teaching your child to brush their teeth by guiding the brush with your hand and showing them the movements.

Have a regular check up with your local dentist at least every 6 months.

Talk to your dentist about fluoride varnish and fissure sealant.

Toothbrushing tips

Brush your child’s teeth for about two minutes twice a day: once just before bedtime and once in the morning.

Don’t brush straight after sugary treats – including drinks such as fizzy drinks or fruit juice. This is because sugar softens the enamel – so if you brush straight away, you can erode it away. Wait half an hour and then brush.

Encourage them to spit out excess toothpaste, but not to rinse with lots of water. Rinsing with water after tooth brushing will wash away the fluoride and make it less effective.

Supervise tooth brushing – or do it yourself – until your child is at least seven or eight years old, even older if necessary.

Make tooth brushing as fun as possible by using an egg timer to time it for about two minutes – or find a fun app.

Saliva plays a vital role in keeping teeth protected from plaque acid as it has a pH of 7.1. Saliva production is reduced at night-time so avoid food and sugary drinks before bedtime.

Change the brush regularly – especially when the bristles start to curve or look worn out.

Don’t let children run around with a toothbrush in their mouth, as they may have an accident and hurt themselves.

Toothpaste

There’s no need to buy special “children’s toothpaste”. Some of them don’t actually have enough fluoride in them to help prevent tooth decay.

Children from the age of seven can use family toothpaste, as long as it contains 1,350-1,500 parts per million (ppm) fluoride.

Children up to the age of six who don’t have tooth decay can use a lower-strength toothpaste, but make sure it contains at least 1,000ppm fluoride.

Make sure children don’t eat or lick toothpaste from the tube.

A pea-sized blob of toothpaste should be enough.

Taking your child to the dentist – Fluoride varnish and fissure sealants

In the UK, NHS dental care for children is free up to the age of 18, if they are in full-time education.

Hopefully you will have been taking your child to the dentist from when their first milk teeth appeared. If not – start now and go regularly. This is so they become familiar with the environment and get to know the dentist. If you go along regularly when they’re little – just for a quick check up and look – they won’t grow up being worried about going to the dentist.

Talk to the dentist about fluoride varnish and fissure sealants.

Fissure sealants can be done once your child’s permanent back teeth have started to come through (usually at the age of about six or seven) to protect them from decay. This is a special thin plastic coating to keep germs and food particles out of the grooves. The sealant can last for around 5 to 10 years.

Fluoride varnish can be applied to both baby teeth and adult teeth every 6 months to strengthen the tooth enamel and prevent decay. This can start around age 3 – but even younger if your dentist thinks your child needs it.

My child doesn’t like cleaning his teeth – what can I do?

It’s important for your child to be independent, but if they’re not cleaning their teeth properly, you’ll need to step in. You can teach them independence with other activities.

Note
Note from Essential Parent Co-Founder, Diana Hill – “My dentist cleaned her own children’s teeth until they were 10. She felt it was more important for them to have clean teeth, and avoid cavities, than worrying about whether they were cleaning them independently.”

If your child is resistant to you cleaning his teeth you could negotiate a situation where they are allowed to do the first clean (or the last clean) and you get to clean as well for around 2 minutes.

Be really gentle as it can be very uncomfortable and painful having someone else clean your teeth.

You can use toothbrushes that light up for 2 minutes, or a fun app, or an egg timer to help your child to see how long to clean his teeth. These tricks help the time go by and side-tracks a reluctant tooth brusher.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.