Taking care of toothy pegs: How to look after your child’s oral hygiene

Kinderling News & Features

Keeping your child’s pearly whites healthy has significant benefits for their teeth and mouth hygiene as they grow into adulthood. But what’s the best way to look after your child’s chompers?

Paediatric dentist and oral health consultant, Dr Sarah Raphael, shares her expert advice.

Listen to Sarah on Kinderling Conversation:

Where to start? 

Children usually start to grow teeth by the time they are 12 months old. Even before teeth arrive, it’s a good idea to familiarise your child with the teeth cleaning process. Wiping the gums with a damp cloth and introducing a small toothbrush as a toy are good ways for young children to become used to having something in their mouths. 

Once these little baby teeth come through, it’s important to prevent tooth decay and keep them clean, as the health of the baby teeth can directly impact the condition of adult teeth. So what can you do as a parent to ensure they stay healthy from the get-go?

Expose teeth to fluoride daily after 18 months

In Australia, only 48 percent of people brush their teeth twice a day. However, teeth require frequent washing with fluoride to stay nice and healthy. 

It’s important for children to brush their teeth twice daily with toothpaste containing fluoride and to drink plenty of tap water or fluoridated bottled water as a primary drink. 

Australian guidelines say that children should start to use child-strength toothpaste at the age of 18 months. If that’s not available, use a very tiny smear of adult’s toothpaste on the brush. Before 18 months, brush teeth with only water, so as to not over-expose your child to fluoride. While fluoride is fantastic for looking after teeth, too much can cause problems with enamel development. 

Take an active role

Have a look at your child’s ability to draw or their handwriting, and think about how dexterous they are; this can be translated in to how well they can brush their teeth. 

Of course children love their independence, but for the younger ones, it’s important to take an active role in helping them brush their teeth to ensure it's getting done properly. 

Avoid sugar 

Not only is sugar bad for overall health, it’s terrible for teeth. Sugar is hidden everywhere, particularly in children’s snacks and yoghurts that sound healthy. Look thoroughly on food packaging to reduce this extra intake. 

When combined with illness in children either in utero or soon after birth, sugars can break down the enamel on teeth quickly. This could lead to decay and mean that a lot of dental treatment is necessary later on. 

Visit the dentist regularly 

It’s important for children to be familiar with a dentist setting early on. 

The Australasian Academy of Paediatric Dentistry suggests children should be taken to the dentist before they turn one. This could be going along with a parent or carer, or with a sibling. Becoming familiar with what a dental surgery looks like means children aren’t frightened when they do have to visit the dentist themselves.

Consistent check-ups also mean small problems don’t turn into big problems. Decay is preventable and most people can’t detect the very early stages of decay, but a dentist can. As long as it’s not a cavity, it can usually be reversed and treated.