Caring for your child's teeth

Monday, August 20, 2007
Image: Snapper Media
Taking care of your child's teeth begins before the first teeth even arrive, which happens around the age of six months. Before then, keep the gums clean by daily wiping. You can use your finger wrapped in a small piece of damp gauze or a clean face washer, to remove plaque.

Twenty 'baby' or primary teeth will arrive over the next 24-30 months. They play a crucial role in your child's development and need to be looked after carefully. These teeth enable the child to eat and chew; they are vital to the development of the face and jaw for talking; and they create a space for the 32 permanent teeth that begin to follow five or six years later.

Oral health begins and is established as routine in these early months and years of a child's life and is inseparable from general health. These first teeth need treating with as much care as adult teeth. The routine of teeth cleaning should begin as soon as baby teeth appear.

Keep on using a damp piece of gauze or face washer for a while before progressing to a small, soft toothbrush when your child is about 12 months old. Clean after breakfast and at night before bed. Start using toothpaste at 18 months — choose junior toothpaste with lower fluoride. Only a little toothpaste is needed, about the size of a pea. Encourage children to spit out, rather than swallow.

Little children usually lack the ability to handle a toothbrush and need adult help in brushing for quite a few years. Jiggle the brush up and down and round and round, making sure to clean into the gum line as well as the teeth. Flossing is important for cleaning between teeth that are close together. It can be used for toddlers once their primary teeth are established.

Brush skills
For children under age six, tooth brushing should be performed by, or supervised by, an adult. The best way is to stand behind your child with him/her facing in the same direction as you. You then lean over and place a gentle hand on their chin as you brush with the other hand. The child leans back against your body so it is gentle and easy on both of you.

Prevention tips
Keep your eyes on the daily oral hygiene of your child until you are sure he/she is adept at teeth-cleaning. Make it fun rather than a big issue.

Six months to one year:

  • Don't add salt, sugar and fat to food.
  • Try not to use a bottle or breast for comfort. If you do use a bottle as a pacifier, use only water, right from the first time. Do not add sugar in any form or any carbohydrate, even milk (a bottle used as a pacifier is different from feeding).

One to two years:

  • Encourage your child to drink water rather than soft drinks or fruit juice.
  • Avoid excessive fast foods and sugary snacks for your child during the day and encourage nutritious foods such as cheese and fruit.

Two to three-and-a-half years:

  • Start taking your child to the dentist. Visits can be for a routine check or simply to get the child used to visiting the dentist without having any treatment. This creates a positive feeling, enables early problems to be picked up and gets your child used to regular visits.
  • Future orthodontic problems can be caused by using a dummy (pacifier) or by thumb and finger sucking — if this habit worries you, ask your dentist for advice.

Nursing bottle tooth decay
Don't let your child fall asleep while sucking on a bottle containing milk, formula, juices, vitamin C supplement drinks or any sweet drinks. These can lead to severe decay. If your child needs the comfort of a bottle, use water only. Get the child used to a feeding cup around six months of age and try to eliminate the bottle at about 12 months.

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