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    What can I do to help my kids have healthy teeth?

    Establishing good oral hygiene from a young age is critical in providing a good outcome for not only your child’s oral health but their overall health as they grow.

    We all know about brushing twice a day and flossing but it can be a bit tricky to know exactly how to introduce these concepts to our little ones and when it’s actually necessary.   

    What is tooth decay and what causes it?

    Tooth decay is essentially the breakdown of our teeth due to bacteria. It is a dynamic and complex process which occurs over time.

    Decay-causing bacteria in our mouth feed off of the sugars in the food and drinks we consume which sits on our teeth in the form of plaque. This results in the production of acid and the breakdown of the tooth surface and the formation of cavities (holes).

    We are at a greater risk of decay when we have a diet high in sugar or simple carbohydrates/starchy foods as these are more easily broken down. The more acid attacks that occur over time, the higher the chance of tooth decay.

    A common form of decay seen in children is called Early Childhood Caries (ECC) or baby bottle decay. This occurs when children are put to bed with drinks such as juice, soft drinks, and even animal milk. It frequently results in decay in the top front teeth but can affect any teeth. This happens because it allows the liquid to pool around your child’s teeth and prolongs the time the tooth surface is in contact with the sugars they contain.

    Prevention is key! This includes good oral hygiene, such as regular brushing, flossing and use of fluoridated toothpaste (when at the appropriate age). We recommend not putting your little one to sleep with anything other than water, breastmilk or formula and, where possible, brushing their teeth before they fall asleep.

    Does this mean my child should never have sugary foods?

    The short answer is no!

    We need to be realistic about what is achievable when it comes to food and small children (we all know at least one very picky toddler!) and what a balanced diet looks like. Even fruit, which is healthy, contains sugar. However, there is a big difference between a piece of fresh fruit vs. fruit juice.

    Young children often snack throughout the day and if they have a diet high in sugar (i.e., cake, chocolate or softdrink) or processed/packaged foods and drinks, they are constantly being exposed to acid attacks with minimal time for recovery. This is turn increases their risk of decay.

    Some healthier alternatives may include dairy-based snacks with reduced sugar (i.e., Greek yoghurt), cheese or wholemeal breads or biscuits which are harder for bacteria to break down.

    Occasional sugary treats are not an issue so long as they are in moderation in conjunction with good oral hygiene practices.

    When should i start brushing my child’s teeth?

    0 – 6 months (or before teeth appear)

    Believe it or not, it’s important to start brushing before your child even has teeth! This helps to slowly introduce them to the concept, having something in their mouth, the sensation on their gums, and helps you as a parent integrate it into their routine.

    Here are some of our recommendations for this age group:

    • A clean washcloth can be used to wipe their gums when they are very young.
    • Silicone finger toothbrushes – these fit over your finger and are an excellent way to introduce the idea of a brushing without the bulkiness of a toothbrush.
    • Silicone toothbrushes – these can be found at supermarkets or chemists and are gentler on the gums and are particularly useful as your little one starts the process of teething.
    • Let them play with a toothbrush (always under supervision) to allow them to become familiar with the feeling of it in their mouth. This can also be really great at promoting dexterity and fine motor skills.

    6+ months (or once first tooth appears)

    Once your child’s first tooth appears, it is critical that you are brushing their teeth regularly.

    Here are some of our recommendations for this age group:

    • A soft bristled kids’ toothbrush (0-2 years) which has a smaller head for smaller mouths, and which allow movement of the bristles around the different surfaces of the teeth.
    • Brushing 2 x daily (morning and night) and after eating if they have begun on solids.
    • Brushing all surfaces of the teeth as your child will allow – you don’t need to aim for 2 minutes at this stage – any brushing is better than none!
    • A toothbrush and water is all you need at this stage.
    • You only need to gently brush – round circular motions – no scrubbing!

    18+ months

    Here are some of our recommendations for this age group:

    • Introduce a fluoridated kids’ toothpaste – you only need to use a very small amount. Do not need to worry if your child swallows it as children’s toothpaste has a lower concentration of fluoride and most children do not learn how to spit until closer to 2 years old.
    • There are many different types of children’s toothpaste available all with different flavours, colours, and graphics – some kids may be quite averse to certain flavours so it can help to try different kinds to find what your child likes best.
    • You can allow your child to try and brush their own teeth to familiarise themselves with the concept, but they will need your help up until they are about 7-8 years old – or have the dexterity enough to tie their own shoes.

    24+ months

    Here are come of our recommendations for this age group:

    • Once your child has all of their teeth, aim to brush all surfaces for a total of 2 minutes.
    • Aim to have your child comfortable with having their teeth flossed at least once daily.  

    6+ years

    Here are some of our recommendations for this age group:

    • At this age, children can start to use a normal adult toothpaste which has a higher concentration of fluoride to protect teeth from decay.
    • Depending on their level of dexterity, they may be able to brush independently without parental aid.
    • Continue to keep a close eye on their teeth as they begin to lose their baby (primary) teeth and their adult (permanent) teeth start to come through.

    When should i start flossing my child’s teeth?

    It’s best to introduce the concept of flossing from an early age before your child has any teeth that are touching. Once they have any teeth that touch, flossing becomes much more critical to ensure the removal of plaque and food from between the teeth. Here are MyToothDoctor we have a saying that goes: “Only floss the teeth you wish to keep!”

    Whilst some children will have more spaces between their baby teeth than others (which is normal), it is still good to introduce flossing to allow them to become familiar with the process and for it to become integrated into their oral care routine.

    Kids floss picks are usually the easiest way to floss children’s teeth as the heads are smaller and the floss is thinner to be gentler on teeth and gums. Ideally, the aim is to have your child use to flossing by 2-3 years of age. As is the case with brushing, we recommend helping them until they are 7-8 years of age or have the dexterity to tie their own shoes.

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