Getting your child’s smile off on the right start can affect their oral health for decades to come. From an early age, positive experiences in the dental office can help them avoid the risks of tooth decay and minimise anxiety and unnecessary treatments in the future.
As a parent or caregiver, you play a key role in your child’s oral hygiene habits. Until your little one has the dexterity to tie their own shoes, they will also need assistance with caring for their teeth. The great news is that your time investment can establish good oral wellness as your child ages, which can in turn impact the development of their adult teeth and overall health.
Baby Teeth vs. Adult Teeth
One of the most common misconceptions about primary (baby) teeth is that “they’re going to fall out anyway”, so it’s not all that big of an issue if they get cavities or need to be extracted.
The truth is that baby teeth act as placeholders and guides for the developing permanent (adult) teeth underneath. If one gets knocked out from an injury or has extensive decay that requires an extraction, it can permanently alter the entire alignment of your child’s future adult smile. By preserving baby teeth as long as they’re intended, we can in turn promote appropriate oral and facial growth patterns while minimising the need for extensive orthodontic treatments.
Another important side note is that baby teeth tend to be less dense than their adult counterparts. Part of the reason for this is to allow natural absorption once it’s time for those primary teeth to start falling out. But on the other hand, it means that baby teeth can decay at a much quicker pace than a permanent tooth does. If your child gets a cavity in their primary tooth, it needs to be treated as early as possible, before the decay spreads rapidly into the tooth nerve or the underlying adult tooth. It’s almost always the standard of care to restore the tooth instead of extract it.
When to Start Oral Care for Baby
Oral hygiene begins the moment your baby is born. By gently cleaning their gums with a soft, damp cloth after feedings you can reduce the risk of oral thrush and mastitis (for nursing mothers). It also makes your baby more accustomed to having their mouth cleaned for when it’s time to start brushing teeth.
Once the first tooth erupts at the lower front area of baby’s smile, you can begin to use an extra-small training toothbrush to begin cleaning their teeth twice a day. If you prefer, the brush can also be used to wipe their gum tissues throughout their mouth instead of continuing with a soft washcloth.
Make sure you’re cleaning baby’s mouth at least twice daily (especially before bedtime) but after each feeding is even better!
Toddlers at the Dentist
Paediatric dentists, paediatricians, and dental health experts all recommend that children ought to see their dentist for a checkup by their first birthday. Although the initial visit or two will typically be quite informal and more educational, it helps to familiarise your child with the dental environment and allows our family dentist to screen for early developmental concerns — such as tongue thrusting, missing teeth, growth patterns, or lip ties — before “bigger” issues can develop.
As your child becomes an active toddler, they’ll progress from simple exams to gentle, age-appropriate cleanings and small X-rays. These preventative steps allow us to screen for eruption irregularities, tooth decay, oral hygiene needs, and intercept issues as early as possible.
Plan to keep a typical six-monthly checkup schedule for your child as they grow. Routine preventative care, fluoride treatments, and protective sealants (when applicable) can significantly reduce your family’s risk of decay and dental emergencies in the future.
Dental Products for Children
Young children should use an age-appropriate toothbrush. Although a lot of kids ask for attractive brushes that may be designed for larger mouths, it’s important to stick to one that has a smaller brush head and will fit into their mouth. Otherwise, large brush heads won’t be able to fit around the tighter curves and clean their mouth effectively. For toddlers, check the age-range on the toothbrush packaging.
As your toddler grows into a pre-schooler — and beyond in years — you may want to consider investing in an electric toothbrush. Powered toothbrushes help remove more plaque than using a manual version, especially for children who are still learning how to brush or lack the dexterity to do it on their own. Just remember to choose one with soft or extra-soft bristles, so that it’s not too harsh on their gums or enamel. When it comes to electric toothbrushes, you typically get what you pay for.
Choosing the right toothpaste is also important. Over the past several years, dental industry leaders, researchers and experts have changed their recommendations on children’s toothpaste and what dosages of fluoride should be used. Once teeth start to erupt, use a rice-grain-sized smear of fluoride toothpaste to clean your baby or toddler’s teeth twice a day. For pre-schoolers or children who are old enough to rinse well with water and spit after brushing, progress to a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste (which, by the way, is the same amount that adults should use.)
Over-the-counter fluoride mouth rinse is also fine for pre-schoolers who are sure not to swallow it. Otherwise, it could upset their stomach. Using the rinse at night before bed can help to remineralise weak areas of enamel and further reduce their chances of getting tooth decay, as long as it compliments a dedicated brushing and flossing routine.
Disposable floss picks (“flossers”) work great for young children since they usually have wider spaces between their teeth. As your child gets older and their permanent molars start to erupt, they should transition to traditional floss or a water flosser since floss picks are harder to fit in-between the back teeth.
Invisalign for Kids and Teens
Do you have a child that needs braces? Or maybe a teen who wants an alternative to traditional bracket and wire orthodontics? Hawthorn Road Family Dental receives a lot of questions about Invisalign for kids.
Invisalign is an extremely effective, invisible braces option that uses removable aligners. But the key to their success is being able to monitor the wear-time at home and following the prescribed use, which includes changing them out at specific points every other week. As such, the clear aligners tend to work best for our older patients, such as adults and teens. Even with our teen Invisalign patients, it’s extremely important that your child be committed to their home care instructions and changing the trays out as directed. If your teen is responsible and keeps up with things easily, that shouldn’t be a problem. We’re happy to discuss the situation with you to determine if Invisalign Teen is a good fit for your family.
Dental Tips for Parents
Until your child is old enough to tie their own shoes, they’ll need a bit of help making sure they’re brushing and flossing thoroughly enough. Although it’s fine to allow your child to brush and floss on their own — after all, most kids crave independence — you’ll want to follow up behind them to make sure everything is nice and clean. As your child gets a little older, you can shift to only helping them brush at night before bed, since that’s the most important time of all.
Brushing needs to last for at least two minutes per session, with a minimum of two sessions twice per day. Most of us, regardless of our age, tend to rush through the two minutes without realising it. Make a point to have some type of a timer, clock, or even a special song playing to monitor how long your child is brushing and to help keep them on track.
Remind your child to brush in circles, focusing on one tooth at a time. They’ll need to clean the entire side of the tooth as well as the gumlines on both the inside and outside of their bite, then follow up on the chewing surfaces.
If you’re up for the potential mess, it’s ok to purchase “disclosing tablets” now and then. Have your child brush, chew up a tablet, spit, then look in the mirror. Any leftover pink or purple buildup will mean there’s plaque they haven’t been brushing off their teeth. It’s a great way to do a self-check on the effectiveness of your brushing routine.
Choose a Family Dentist
Do you need to bring your child to a paediatric dentist? Not necessarily. Partnering with a great family dentist makes it easier for everyone in your household to access quality care under one roof. That way your child can grow with the same dental team and always feel at home when it comes time for checkups!
Schedule your child’s six-monthly visit today. Contact Hawthorn Road Family Dental to request an appointment for the entire family.