Childhood is the most important period in a person’s life for developing and maintaining good dental habits. It is very important to ensure that a child grows up with a positive attitude towards dental health. We have found that even when children have visited a dentist before, they often don’t know what to expect when they come to see us. The goal of dental treatment for children is to ensure each child has a healthy mouth with a good bite, which not only looks good but functions well in both the primary (temporary) and permanent dentitions.
At West Byfleet Dental & Implant Centre we take the prevention of child dental disease very seriously.
Parents often have questions about the care of their children’s teeth:
Knowing the answers to these and other questions can help you keep your child’s teeth healthy and cavity-free.
We are always happy to answer parents’ questions in the surgery. Some of the most commonly asked questions with their answers are given below.
Generally a baby who is given a dummy will at some point stop using it, normally at an early age, and not resort to anything else. Never dip a dummy in anything sweet before giving it to your baby. These contain harmful sugars and acids, which will attack your baby’s newly formed teeth and cause decay. A baby who is not given a dummy will often suck their thumb. From a dental point of view, thumbs are a far worse problem than dummies. Unlike a dummy, the thumb cannot be taken away, and thumb sucking often carries on into older childhood. Thumb sucking can have marked detrimental effects on the position of teeth, which then results in the need for correction braces at the appropriate age (generally 11-14 yrs).
Primary or “baby” teeth have usually developed under the gums before your child is born, and will start to come through at about 6 months of age. All twenty baby teeth should be through by the age of 2½. At the age of about 6, either the first permanent “adult” molars (back teeth) will appear behind the baby teeth or the lower front baby teeth are lost and the replacement “adult” teeth start to erupt. The order at which this happens varies between children. Parents often think that this first permanent molar is another baby tooth and sometimes fail to take proper dental care because they think it will fall out. The permanent “adult” teeth will then replace the “baby” teeth. The upper front teeth are lost shortly after the lower front teeth and, by the age of 13, all baby teeth have normally been lost and been replaced by their permanent successors.
Adult second molars, which come through behind the first molars, are normally present by age 13 whilst the wisdom teeth (the third molars) erupt any time between the ages of 18-25 (or sometimes not at all!)
Children’s teeth when they first erupt are always free of decay, so prevention should start from the moment the first teeth appear. It is important to avoid giving babies bottles containing fruit juices and squash, which can cause serious damage to the teeth. The main cause of tooth decay is not the amount of sugar in the diet but the frequency of consumption. The more often your child has sugary food or drinks, the more likely they are to have decay. It is therefore important to keep sugary foods to mealtimes only. If you want to give your child a snack between meals, try limiting the options to cheese, vegetables and savoury bites; fruit, especially dried fruit like raisins, contain fruit sugars so should be limited in frequency. Any sweets should ideally be avoided or eaten at mealtimes only. It is important to remember that some processed baby foods contain a lot of sugar. Check the list of ingredients; the higher up the list sugar is, the more there is in the product. Sometimes these are shown as fructose, glucose, lactose or sucrose.
If your child has regular acidic fruit juices and fruits such as oranges, this can cause acid erosion in the teeth. We advise that after your child has had acidic foods or drinks that they wash their mouth out with plain water afterwards to get rid of any excess acid. They must not brush their teeth for at least an hour after consuming acidic foods or drinks. Drinks such as Coca Cola are also very acidic. Thorough brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, particularly last thing at night, will help to prevent tooth decay. A fluoride mouthwash used daily can also help reduce the incidence of decay, but these are best used by children over the age of 6 as the mouthwash must be spat out and not swallowed. Also, fissure sealants (tooth coloured sealants) can be professionally applied to biting surfaces of children’s teeth to prevent decay.
Cleaning your child’s teeth should be part of their daily hygiene routine. You should start cleaning your infant’s teeth as soon as they get their first tooth. Start by using a toothbrush designed for very young children. The Oral B “Stages” are a good choice for this. Initially use only a smear of a children’s toothpaste such as Aquafresh “Milk Teeth”. We find it best if the parent kneels on the floor, and the child lays down with their head in the parent’s lap so the parent is behind the child. This way, the brushing action is more akin to brushing your own teeth and the child is not so able to move their head away. With slightly older children, sit or stand behind them, cradling their head and brushing the teeth, similar to above. Once the teeth have come through, use a small-headed soft toothbrush in small circular movements and try to concentrate on one section at a time. Don’t forget to brush gently behind the teeth and onto the gums. If possible, make tooth brushing a routine – preferably in the morning and last thing in the evening before your child goes to bed.
A time will come when your child will want to brush their own teeth. This is ok, providing it is supervised and only a small amount of toothpaste is put on the brush. Remember that children are not usually able to clean effectively until 7 years old, and children will need help until this age. A 2-minute timer will help your child to brush for the correct amount of time, and remember to encourage and verbally reward your child. Ideally encourage your child to do their brushing in the morning and continue brushing the child’s teeth yourself in the evening. It is again important to stress that you should supervise your child’s brushing until they are at least seven years old.
All children should use fluoride toothpaste, because fluoride has been proven to reduce dental decay by at least 40%. Research has shown that children living in a non-fluoridated area have more dental decay than those living in areas with fluoride in the drinking water. Fluoride comes from a number of different sources including toothpaste, specific fluoride applications and even drinking water. These can all help to prevent tooth decay. The amount of fluoride in toothpastes varies significantly. Toothpastes for very young children contain far less fluoride than those for an older child or adult. Always use a paste appropriate for the child’s age unless specifically told otherwise by your dentist. You can check the level of fluoride on the packaging of the toothpaste, but these can sometimes be confusing. Children should be supervised up to the age of 7, and you should try and ensure that the residue of toothpaste is spat out.
A child’s toothbrush should be scaled down to child size as their hands and jaws are much smaller than an adult’s. The handle of a child’s toothbrush should be easy to grip and hold. The brush head should be small and rounded with soft bristles. Children should only use a powered toothbrush once they are able to brush their teeth on their own. There are many different types of children’s toothbrushes available, including brightly coloured brushes, animated handles, musical brushes and a variety of electric brushes with timers. These will all help to encourage your child to brush their teeth.
You could take your baby to your own routine check-up. A child will often sit in their pushchair watching what is going on around, giving them the opportunity to become accustomed to the sights and sounds of a dental practice and allowing us to offer advice on dental health education from the earliest possible age. For example, we will be able to offer advice for teething pains and will be happy to answer any questions you may have. The earlier these visits begin, the more relaxed the child will be. We recommend children are ready for their dental check-ups when most of their baby teeth have erupted. This is usually between 2-3 years of age.
Children will often pick up on their parents’ anxiety, so it is important to let your child feel that a visit to the dentist is nothing to be worried about. Be supportive if your child needs to have any dental treatment. If you have any fears of your own about going to the dentist, we suggest you don’t discuss them in front of your child. Also try to avoid any emotive words such as “pain”, “drills” or “injections”, which can worry the child. Regular visits to the dentist are essential in helping your child to get used to the surroundings of a dental practice. A child can be much more anxious if it is their first visit to a dental practice. It is much easier to treat a child who is at least familiar with the surroundings and the friendly faces around them, rather than having to encounter new surroundings and people for the first time. At the West Byfleet Dental & Implant Centre, we do everything we can so that your child is not anxious or in any pain. We are gentle and considerate and will try to find out what particular aspect of dentistry your child finds stressful.
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