23 Jan 2018

The importance of children’s teeth cannot be understated. Establishing a good oral health routine sooner rather than later can not only make them less likely to fall into bad habits in the future but it can be a huge benefit for their general health and well-being also.

It’s never too early for children to learn the importance of good oral hygiene. This includes twice daily tooth brushing, a healthy diet and regular dental visits. All three are really important for a child’s oral health and also have a positive effect on their overall health too.

Giving them a great start to life as far as their teeth are concerned is relatively simple and by following three simple steps, you can help make sure that your children’s teeth stay healthy for years to come.

  1. Get started early

Getting children into good, healthy habits early tends to lead to better health throughout the rest of their lives, this especially applies to their oral health.

As soon as a child’s “baby teeth” begin to appear, cleaning their teeth twice a day will help them get used to having a toothbrush in their mouth and start the process of getting them into a good routine. To begin with, using a piece of clean cloth wrapped around your finger might be easier. When more teeth begin to emerge, you can switch to a baby toothbrush.

Another part of getting children on the right path early is taking them to the dentist as soon as possible. Don’t hesitate to bring them along with you to your dental appointments, even at a very young age. It allows them to get used to the sights, sounds and smells in an unfamiliar environment. Letting your children attend appointments with you is a fantastic way of making sure they don’t grow up wanting to put off their visits to the dentist in the future.

A nationwide campaign, called Dental Check by One, has recently been launched by the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry, in partnership with the Office of the Chief Dental Officer England which aims to increase the number of children who access dental care aged 0-2 years.

Many parents make the mistake of thinking that since baby teeth will eventually make way for adult teeth, it isn’t as important to take care of them while they’re there. But beginning to develop a good oral health routine at a young age allows children to build habits that they can take into later life and have a far better chance of keeping their adult teeth as healthy as possible.

  1. Toothbrushing and fun

Using a fluoride toothpaste is just as important for children, as it is for adults. It’s a huge benefit to our dental health because it strengthens tooth enamel, making it more resistant to tooth decay – a huge problem millions of children in the UK currently suffer from that can be completely avoided.  

For children up to age three it is best to use a smear of toothpaste with 1000ppm (parts per million) fluoride followed by a pea sized blob of 1350ppm fluoride toothpaste for older children. Many toothpastes have the recommended ages on their labelling so finding the right one is usually quite straightforward.

Getting children involved in looking after their oral health can sometimes be challenging, one simple way of doing this can be getting them to choose their own toothbrush. Take them to the supermarket to see if they want one with their favourite character on, it can help them to get excited about brushing their teeth.

When you’ve got the right toothbrush and toothpaste, make sure that children are brushing for two minutes last thing at night before they go to bed and at least one other time during the day.  

Doing this is a lot easier if you try your best to make brushing an enjoyable experience for your children. You can do it by using songs, reward charts and games, there are also mobile apps which they can brush along to as part of a game or in time with their favourite song. Hopefully what you will begin to see as time goes on is that it will become an instinctive part of their day and eventually you won’t even have to remind them! Although, just to be on the safe side, we do recommend that children are supervised while brushing their teeth until they are seven years old.

  1. Beware of sugary foods and drinks

Every single time we have anything containing sugar, our teeth are under attack for around an hour. Now, imagine giving a child a sugary treat or drink every few hours during the day. Their teeth would constantly be under attack!

A big mistake that many parents make is letting their children have a sugary drink or snack right before they brush their teeth and go to sleep. Our saliva flow reduces when we sleep and teeth will remain under attack for even longer.  It may seem to make sense to brush straight away but try to avoid this. Since the acid formed when sugar meets the bacteria in dental plaque weakens the enamel (top surface of the teeth) of a child’s gnashers, brushing straight away can cause even more damage because you’d be brushing away the weakened surface. Give their teeth time to recover and then allow them to brush with a fluoride toothpaste right before they go to sleep.

In fairness, having sugary drinks at any time during the day can be hugely detrimental to a child’s health. Still water and milk are the best things any of us can have throughout the day. Sugary drinks, including fruit juices, should be restricted to meal times only. Again, this reduces the amount of sugar attacks a child’s teeth will go through each day.

It may be tempting to give your children sweets and sugary snacks as a form of reward for good behaviour, but this should really be avoided. Growing up being used to having a sugary treat frequently will not do them any good and there are much more healthy and nutritious things that children should be eating on a regular basis.

When you're out shopping for food, try and have a closer look at the labels of products you’re about to put in your basket. Many of them contain more sugar than you think and it’s understandable to think that products that claim to have “no added sugar” are sugar-free but a quick look at the label will allow you to find out!

Alternatively, you could download the Change4Life Food Scanner app on your smartphone. It’s designed to show you how much sugar, fat and salt is inside your food and drink. All you have to do is scan the barcode.

Generally, a diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, fresh fruit and vegetables will give children the best chance of preventing oral health problems like gum disease later on in life. Day to day, children should be having three meals and no more than two snacks. This is far better than frequent snacking between meals!

When all is said and done, the best way to help children look after their oral health is to make sure they follow three simple steps:

  • Make sure they brush their teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day with a fluoride toothpaste. It’s best to supervise children’s brushing up until they’re seven years old. Just to make sure they’re doing so safely and effectively.
  • Cut down on the quantity of sugar containing foods and drinks they have and how often they have them. No child is born with a ‘sweet tooth’ but they will develop a craving for it if eaten at an early age so stick to fruit, vegetables, water and milk.
  • Make sure they visit the dentist regularly, as often as recommended.