How can I take care of my child or toddler’s teeth?

Taking care of children’s teeth is just as important as adult teeth. Although their deciduous milk teeth will be lost, decay or damage to these teeth can spread to the adult teeth, as the baby teeth are lost one by one. Just like with adults, it is plaque build up on teeth processing sugar, to make acid, which causes tooth decay. Children, and in particular babies, can have weaker immune systems, meaning they can be at higher risk.


When do the baby teeth come through?

The baby teeth should start to come through at about 6 months old. They will then progressively come through in pairs either side, top and bottom until two and half years. This varies considerable and the first teeth can be present at birth, or be delayed so they come through (erupt) at up to 12 months old. Any later than that and they should be checked to make sure there is not a problem. Teeth present at birth can be problematic for feeding. Sometimes they don’t develop properly and can be loose, so can be an inhalation risk. Talk to your dentist, midwife or lactation consultant if you have any concerns. Delayed teeth that come through without issue and in the correct order aren’t usually a concern.

When to the adult teeth come through?

The adult teeth start to replace the baby teeth from about 6 years old. The first molars will come through at the back, behind the baby teeth. You or your child may not even notice this! The first incisors at the front then start to be replace and the other teeth are progressively replaced until about 11 years old, then the second molars come through at about 12 years old. Again there is a normal variation and it can be early or late by about 18 months without concern. Anything outside that and they should be checked with a dentist or orthodontist, possibly with x-rays.

When should I bring my child to the dentist for the first time?

The earlier the first dental visit, the better. You want the first experience to be positive. It is more about creating familiarity and habit. Whenever you feel they are ready, is good. Any time between two and six years old is ideal. They should attend before the adult teeth come through at six years, so problems are discovered prior to having a chance to spread.

Should I clean my child’s teeth?

Yes, they will not have coordination to clean their own teeth. When they are very young, you will have to do it all for them. You should start as soon as the first teeth come through. You can just use a toothbrush without paste, as babies will swallow everything that is in their mouth. As they get older you can dab a little toothpaste onto the brush. Eventually, you can use a full size amount, which is the size of a pea, not the amount shown in adverts, to sell more toothpaste! If you are concerned about them swallowing too much fluoride, you can use a lower dose fluoride paste, designed for kids. The adult strength is best though, and they should spit excess out afterwards, even having a gentle rinse. Child strength toothpastes often have fruit flavours, more pleasing to a child than the harsh mint adults prefer for freshness. Find a flavour they tolerate, but don’t like too much, as you don’t want them eating it unsupervised! It is not until they are six years old that they will be coordinated enough to clean themselves. Until then, you can let them clean as much as they can and then finish it off at the end. This should be part of the routine every morning and evening before bed. They should spend at least 2-3 minutes brushing. A shower timer can be good for this, or a radio. Most songs on the radio are about 3 minutes long. They can brush from start to finish.

Can my child get tooth decay before moving on to solid foods?

A baby with a weak immune system can get decay from sugars that would not cause a problem for an adult. It does not tend to be a problem when breast feeding, as they will only feed when they need to, becoming less frequent as they get older. If they feed from a bottle, it is important not to leave the bottle with them. Take it away as soon as they are done. This can be a particular problem if the bottle is left with them as they go to sleep. They will constantly feed from it during the night, meaning their baby teeth are constantly bathed in mild that has natural sugars in it. Don’t put anything in the bottle except breast milk, baby formula, cow’s milk (when older) and water. It is not common any more, but people used to add juices to the bottle to sweeten the milk. Early decay because of bottle access is called Nursing Bottle Caries and can destroy their baby teeth. When they are so young, it is very difficult to treat, and they will often need to go to hospital for a general anaesthetic.

What common foods cause decay for children?

Just like adults, children are susceptible to decay due to sugar in their diet. Juices are a big problem as it can be difficult to get kids to drink enough water and they much prefer juice. Try and avoid introducing them to it in the first place. If they never have it, they never miss it. Soft drinks are even worse than juices, so should only be had on special occasions. Not only do these contain sugars, but they are also acidic, causing dental erosion, dissolving the tooth enamel. Instilling healthy eating habits from a young age is important. Try to avoid using lollies or sweet things as a reward for good behaviour. Instead, they may have it as a dessert after eating a healthy meal. The biggest factor for decay is the frequency of sugar. For this reason, it is important to keep processed sugars to main meals and only have fresh fruit and vegetables for snacks. Even things we think of as health, like raisins, are high in sugar. Dried fruit and juices are just as bad as lollies if they are had frequently. Fresh fruit will not cause decay.

My child grinds their teeth, is this normal?

Grinding their teeth is not normal. The most common cause of tooth grinding, or bruxism, in children is an airway problem. Snoring is also a sign of this and it is not normal for a child to snore. If you notice your child grinding their teeth, you should talk to their GP, dentist or an orthodontist or ENT (ear nose and throat) specialist. A poor airway can lead to inattention, lowered iq, behavioural problems, bedwetting and other health issues. It should be addressed as soon as practicable.

For any further information on taking care of your child’s teeth, please feel free to book an appointment, call us or email us.


As featured in MyDeal Blog