From brushing their first tooth to their first trip to the dentist, here's how to take care of your children's teeth
A regular teeth cleaning routine is essential for good dental health. Follow these tips and you can help keep your kids' teeth decay-free:
- Start brushing your baby's teeth with fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first milk tooth breaks through (usually at around six months, but it can be earlier or later). It's important to use a fluoride paste, as this helps to prevent and control tooth decay.
- There's no need to buy special "children's toothpaste" brands. In fact, some of them don't have enough fluoride in them to help prevent tooth decay.
- Children from the age of seven can use family toothpaste, as long as it contains 1,350-1,500 parts per million (ppm) fluoride. Check the toothpaste packet if you're not sure, or ask your dentist.
- Children up to the age of six who don't have tooth decay can use a lower-strength toothpaste, but make sure it contains at least 1,000ppm fluoride.
- Make sure children don't eat or lick toothpaste from the tube.
- Below the age of three years, children should use just a smear of toothpaste.
- Children aged three to six should use a pea-sized blob of toothpaste.
- Brush your child's teeth for about two minutes twice a day: once just before bedtime and at least one other time during the day.
- Encourage them to spit out excess toothpaste, but not to rinse with lots of water. Rinsing with water after tooth brushing will wash away the fluoride and make it less effective.
- Supervise tooth brushing until your child is seven or eight years old, either by brushing their teeth yourself or, if they brush their own teeth, by watching how they do it. From the age of seven or eight, they should be able to brush their own teeth, but it's still a good idea to watch them now and again to make sure they brush properly and for about two minutes.
- Guide your child's hand so they can feel the correct movement.
- Use a mirror to help your child see exactly where the brush is cleaning their teeth.
- Make tooth brushing as fun as possible by using an egg timer to time it for about two minutes.
- Don't let children run around with a toothbrush in their mouth, as they may have an accident and hurt themselves.
- Fissure sealants can be done once your child's permanent back teeth have started to come through (usually at the age of about six or seven) to protect them from decay. This is where the chewing surfaces of the back teeth are covered with a special thin plastic coating to keep germs and food particles out of the grooves. The sealant can last for as long as 5 to 10 years.
- Fluoride varnish can be applied to both baby teeth and adult teeth. It involves painting a varnish that contains high levels of fluoride on to the surface of the tooth every six months to prevent decay. It works by strengthening tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay.
- From the age of three, children should be offered fluoride varnish application at least twice a year. Younger children may also be offered this treatment if your dentist thinks they need it.
Ask your dentist about fluoride varnish or fissure sealing.