As a dentist and mother, I believe it is our responsibility as dental professionals to provide guidance to parents on how to manage the persistent problem of tooth decay amongst children.
Getting a feel for how receptive parents and child patients who are attending may be, could help you decide what information you provide and how you can deliver it. Visual aids are excellent – they are especially helpful if you are explaining the sugar content of food and drinks. This information can stick in patients’ heads long after they have left the surgery. Showing parents and children how to brush is simple and quick but can have a long-lasting effect.
My advice for parents:
- Bring babies in for dental examinations. Around six months is a good age, when their first tooth erupts. Getting them used to the environment of being at the dentist is essential and doing what you can to make it a happy experience for them will make appointments less frightening. If they only attend when they are in pain and require treatment, then they are likely to associate pain with the dentist and this can cause long-term anxiety and phobia.
- Get babies used to the feeling of their gums being brushed and the taste of toothpaste. You should definitely be starting to brush your baby’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears
- Brush your child’s teeth at least twice a day, before bed-time (this is very important) and at least one other time. Make sure you clean all the surfaces of the teeth and use a toothbrush with a small head and medium-textured bristles. Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste and to not rinse their mouth out with water.
- Perseverance is key. Not all children want to brush their teeth or have their teeth brushed. Some may go through phases and for others, it is a constant struggle. Make brushing a priority and make it as fun as possible. Give them a brush to chew, let them try and brush your teeth, use toys and colourful accessories, play Peppa Pig if you really have to. But please don’t neglect it. Eventually it will become routine and with time, it should get easier. Supervised brushing is recommended up until approximately age seven.
- For children under three years-old, use a smear of toothpaste containing no less than 1000 ppm (parts per million) fluoride. For children between three and six years-old, they should use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste containing more than 1000 ppm fluoride. For the maximum prevention of tooth decay for children aged 0-6 years use toothpastes containing 1350-1500 ppm fluoride.
- Learn about sugar. Look at the sugar content of foods and drinks your children regularly have. Limit sugary foods and if they must eat them, restrict consumption to mealtimes only (ideally one mealtime a day). Offer alternative low sugar snacks like cheese and crackers. Try and avoid, or at least minimise, juice consumption if possible and stick to milk and water. Ideally milk should only be consumed from a bottle until age one, and even then it is important that the baby does not fall asleep whilst drinking from the bottle. Never put juice or other sugary drinks in a bottle.
- It is advised to discontinue the use of dummies at around age one.
- Talk to your dentist about fluoride varnish for children over the age of three, as this helps to reduce tooth decay and is a part of prevention.
- Baby teeth ARE important and can affect the adult teeth that follow. The more we inform parents of how to properly care for their children’s oral health, the more likely it is that the matter will be taken seriously, and the state of our nation’s oral health can improve.