Tooth decay in children is on the rise in Australia, with more than half of all 6-year-olds having some decay in their baby or adult teeth. So it’s more important than ever to teach your child good oral health habits that will stay with them for life.
It is important to look after your child’s teeth from the moment they start teething. Keeping your child’s teeth and gums clean will protect against infection, cavities and pain. Decayed baby teeth can damage the permanent teeth underneath.
If a child loses a tooth because of decay, it can cause crowding problems when their adult teeth come through later.
Many babies begin teething at around 3 months old, with the first teeth usually appearing at around 6 to 9 months. By the age of 1, a baby will usually have around 8 teeth. However, babies develop at different rates, so this can vary.
You should begin cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as they arrive. To begin with, you can clean your baby’s teeth by wiping with a soft cloth or brushing with a soft toothbrush and water. From the age of 18 months, you can start using a low-fluoride toothpaste when you brush your child’s teeth.
You can buy toothpaste and small-headed toothbrushes especially for babies or children at your local pharmacy or supermarket. You will need to clean your baby or child’s teeth until they are old enough to do it themselves. This is usually around the age of 7 years.
It’s important for your child to get into a regular oral hygiene routine to prevent tooth decay. Babies can be affected by tooth decay as soon as their first teeth arrive. The first signs of decay often appear as white spots or lines on the front teeth.
Take your baby to visit the dentist as soon as their teeth begin to appear so that the dentist can check their teeth are developing as they should.
Brush your child’s teeth twice a day, using small circular motions. Their teeth should be cleaned after eating and before bed using toothpaste with fluoride that is suitable for children. This can help to strengthen the outside of the teeth and prevent decay. Make sure they brush for at least 2 minutes and remind them not to swallow the toothpaste.
Help your child to brush their teeth from the time they get their first tooth until they are 7 or 8. After that, supervising them is still important.
Try to get into a regular tooth brushing routine, and give your child plenty of praise when they brush their teeth well.
Replace toothbrushes or toothbrush heads every 3 months.
Children should floss as soon as they have 2 teeth that are in contact with each other. You should supervise flossing until they are about 10.
To develop strong teeth, make sure your child eats a healthy, balanced diet and avoids foods with a lot of added sugar, such as lollies, biscuits and soft drinks. Always choose fluoridated tap water.
Regular dental check-ups are important from the age of 1, or within 6 months of the first tooth appearing.
Always make a visit to the dentist a positive experience. Never use the dentist as a threat for not brushing teeth or other behaviour.
As your child’s adult teeth grow through, make an appointment with the dentist if you notice any misalignment of the teeth or jaw. They will advise whether corrective treatment is required.
See the dentist if your child develops any of the following:
Abscesses (these can be under the teeth and will usually be very painful).
If your child develops any of the following symptoms, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible:
Dental Health Services Victoria (Dental advice for preschool children), Dental Health Services Victoria (Dental advice for babies and toddlers), myVMC (Dental health for babies and young children), NHS Choices (UK) (Children’s teeth), Australian Dental Association (Introduction to Private Health Insurance), Australian Dental Association (Kids), Australian Dental Association (Babies), American Dental Association (Tooth eruption), Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Oral health and dental care in Australia 2015), Choice (How much do dentists cost?), Raising Children Network (Dentist), Department of Human Services (Child Dental Benefits Schedule)