Liz Our Oral health Educators Guide To Looking After Children’s Teeth

I am just returning from maternity leave and have been asked on a few different occasions at baby group and by the health visiting team what the approach is to cleaning baby’s teeth. There is a new initiative in Suffolk to give brushing advice at the 12 month review. The study is over 2 years to see if educating parents at this first appointment about cleaning teeth and diet is beneficial to the child. They give you a toothbrush and fluoride paste to use, along with cleaning and diet advice. I feel this is a great initiative and believe that parents and children need to be educated on the risks and problems associated with food and drink and the effect this has on teeth.

The main points of advice I would give to any parent would be

  1. Reduce frequency of food and sugar intake, it’s not so much the amount of sugar as the frequency that causes the problem, due to acid attacks in the mouth.

  2. Make sure you are helping your child brush their teeth until at least age 7, using a brush with a head the size of the thumb nail and appropriate fluoride toothpaste.

  3. With babies early weaning from a bottle to a cup is advisable from around 6months. (This reduces the risk of bottle caries) Also as there is no lid it reduces the frequency of feeding.

  4. The main drink your child consumes should be water. Juices limited to meal times, if at all.

  5. WHO advises exclusive breast feeding for 6months. This should still be considered as a risk to tooth health. As the milk contains natural sugars which can cause the same acid attacks on teeth. So the more frequent the feeding the more likelihood of acid attacks. Which leads to a significant risk of dental decay.

  6. Your child is not born with a sweet tooth; they only develop the taste for sugar if it is given to them.

  7. Brush teeth 45minutes after eating, not before as the acid levels in the mouth are still high for 45mins, so you will be effectively brushing the acid into the tooth before this time.

I know some of these points seem unrealistic and myself with two children understand the difficulty. We are always in a rush in the mornings and it would be so much easier and quicker if my 4 yr old brushed his own teeth, would also avoid an argument and fight every day. I also struggle with getting him to drink water, I have recently invested in some Star Wars bottles and this seems to be working (for now). Treats are difficult too as every weekend there’s a birthday party or event on with sweets and drinks on offer. I’m not saying they can’t have a treat just try to limit damage as much as possible. If they are going to have something, try and incorporate it with meal times and make sure they don’t stretch it out to last over the whole day. I used to buy my son magazines as a treat instead of sweets, this soon got expensive! So we now have a sticker chart and weekly rewards. Usually a few pounds which go into a pot and we take a trip to toys r us when he has enough pennies and he will buy some star monsters or a small Lego set. Rewards don’t have to mean sugar and sweets.

I hope you have found this advice helpful. I know the struggles and try to be as realistic as possible. Sometimes he does have a chocolate bar to avoid a meltdown in the middle of a busy supermarket!! We’re not all perfect.