Words of Wisdom on Children’s Teeth

Caring for your children’s teeth seems simple; give them a healthy diet, make sure their teeth are cleaned twice a day and take them to a dentist on a regular basis. But these basic steps are fraught with frustration and battles.  Student Parents spoke to Deborah King, a dental hygienist with over 25 years experience looking after people’s teeth. She has written a guest post for student parents, on how to keep your baby or young child’s teeth clean and healthy.

‘Hi, I am Deborah King. I trained as a dental therapist, and at that time specialised in children’s dentistry.’


As a dental hygienist, I see mainly adults on a private basis (it is difficult to see a hygienist, on the NHS but not impossible). I teach adults how to look after their teeth, and stop them getting serious gum disease and tooth decay that could result in loss of teeth. Part of my job also includes making sure people maintain good oral hygiene on a regular basis. I clean and polish and generally make their mouths feel good.

I see children if they need to be treated, by referral from their dentist, and advise parents on oral hygiene. I am being asked more and more by parents if I will advice their teenagers on how to look after their teeth. My job is all about prevention of disease in the mouth, both from tooth decay and gum disease. I am regularly asked for advice from parents and pregnant women in the surgery. I also give talks to infant schools and brownie groups.

Student Parents asked Deborah to give us some advice about caring for children’s teeth. Being a busy student, your children’s teeth can be neglected. Parents do not realise how important it is to maintain healthy teeth from a young age. Some parents who hate the dentist themselves may even pass their phobia on to their children. Deborah and Student Parents have compiled some information for parents on how to keep your children’s smiles squeaky clean. 

The facts:

  • According to current research, a third of British children have experienced tooth decay by the time they have started school.
  • In 2011, more the 36,000 hospital operations took place which involved removing decayed teeth from children under the age of 17.
  • These statistics are continuing to rise in number through 2012.

Deborah says, ‘this is a travesty, and in the age of accessibility of information and availability of healthy food and fluoride toothpaste, it should not be happening.’

What can you do to stop your child from becoming one of these statistics?

1. Diet:

The department of health recommends that breastfeeding is best for babies and from 6 months infants should be introduced to drinking from a cup. From 1 year an over, feeding from a bottle should be discouraged.

When starting to wean your baby, remember that babies are not born with a sweet tooth; you are the one that can give them that! They do naturally prefer sweet things but a lot of vegetables are sweet. Encourage a wide range of flavours and tastes. Even if you dislike certain vegetables yourself, try not to prejudice your baby.

Never add sugar to baby’s food.

As your baby grows and you feel they need a snack, feed them unsalted breadsticks, carrot and cucumber sticks. There is no need to give biscuits or sweets as your baby does not know any different. You have to be forceful with doting friends and grandparents. This will not only save you money but your child will not crave sweet snacks.

Always encourage water in a feeding cup to drink in between meals and maybe very diluted fresh fruit juice. Again this will save you money and you will not have a sticky mess to clear up every time your baby’s drink is spilt!

Naturally children will want sweets and biscuits. They will go to parties and see other children with them. It is not going to harm your child’s teeth if they occasionally have sweets, but try not to make sweets a reward or a bargaining tool. If you give your child sweets, desserts or cake, make it part of a meal. Sweets, fizzy drinks and biscuits eaten on a regular basis especially in between meals will cause tooth decay, plus cost you a lot of money when bought regularly. I cannot stress enough how important encouraging your baby to drink water is. Fizzy water is bad for their teeth too and not a good alternative. Just plain water.

2. Cleaning your child’s teeth:

Babies are sometimes born with a tooth. Usually, however, teeth start to come through at between 6 -9 months. Some babies may still have no teeth at 1 year. Most will have all their milk (or primary) teeth by about 2 and ½ years.

There are 20 primary teeth: 10 in the bottom row and 10 at the top. The second, permanent teeth start to come through at around 6-7 years. When you see your baby’s first primary tooth, this is the time to hand them a small, soft baby toothbrush and smear a small amount of a toothpaste for babies. Baby toothpaste should contain no more than 1000ppm fluoride (too much can be harmful and could cause decolourisation of the permanent teeth).

Stand behind your baby and brush their teeth gently, like in the picture.

Some parents have battles with their children over tooth brushing. To try and make this fun, let your child brush your teeth or their toy’s teeth. You should continue to brush and supervise brushing up to when your child becomes 9-10 years old.

After the age of 3, until the age of 5, the toothpaste you use can contain more fluoride: between 1350-1500ppm Most toothpastes you buy from supermarkets contain between

Tooth decay on children's teeth

this amount. Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste and not swallow it.

Look out for signs of decay- small brown patches on the tooth surface is an indicator of decay.

3. Visiting the dentist:

Take your child with you when you go to the dentist, even when they are little. Try not to pass any anxieties you may have onto them.

From the age of 2 years, or when they have all their first milk teeth, your dentist or hygienist can look at them with a mirror and if possible polish them gently. Try to take your child once or twice a year but be guided by your dentist.

What do you do if your child already has signs of decaying teeth?

If you see brown marks on your child’s teeth, take them along to your dentist. The dentist may be able to treat the teeth with a high fluoride varnish, which will stop the decay from progressing and protect the other teeth. If the decay has progressed, the tooth will need a small filling, which may require some drilling. This should be painless and quick. You should then try and alter your child’s diet to cut down sugar and make sure your child is cleaning their teeth properly. Your dentist may wish to coat your child’s first permanent teeth with a plastic coating when they come through (at around 6-7years). This will help protect the surfaces of the tooth biting through the gums from decay. If you see an NHS dentist this should be done free of charge.

There are plenty of ways you can educate your child about their teeth and trips to the dentist through books, online games and apps to your iphone or ipad. There is a wide range to choose from depending on the age of your child.

There is a new app for the ipad, which is interactive and seems suitable for toddlers. Follow the link to download the app: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/kids-dental-health/id511752516?ls=1&mt=8

There is also a free app called BrushDJ, which is a timer aimed at older children to encourage them to brush longer. It has the latest pop music on to brush away to! Plus, it has a lot of useful information and it will even remind you when to brush your teeth and when to see your dentist and hygienist!

Usbourne books do a book for the first visit to the dentist, and ‘Barney goes to the dentist’ is another good book.

http://www.colgate.com/app/BrightSmilesBrightFutures/US/EN/HomePage.cvsp is another good website. There are interactive games and stories for children to enjoy.

For up to date information on all dental health go to: www.dentalhealth.org

Deborah, edited by Lillie

*Pictures courtesy of Oral Health Services Research Centre, Cork.

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