Dental care for babies and young children
Your child’s first teeth are as important as permanent teeth and require daily care. They allow your child to chew and speak properly. They also reserve the correct space in the gums for the growth of permanent teeth. The primary molars need to be kept until the child is 10 to 12 years old.
Daily care is needed so your child does not get caries. Caries in primary teeth is commonly caused by their prolonged contact with sweet liquids or food acids. When taught to look after their teeth, children are more likely to look after their permanent teeth.
Early childhood caries (ECC)
ECC is tooth decay, dental fillings, or missing teeth due to decay in infants or young children.
The main risk factors are:
- Settling the baby to sleep with a bottle of any sweet beverage. Bacteria feed on the sugar and form plaque. Plaque acids then eat into tooth enamel and cause decay
- Night time bottle feeding or frequent at-will breastfeeding past the age of 12 months
- High-sugar diet with frequent snacking or “grazing”
- Dry mouth due to lack of saliva and mouth breathing
- Lack of good brushing and flossing
- Sleep-behaviour problems
Regular dental check-ups are important. Without treatment, your child may develop toothache, infection, and abscess and loose teeth early. Missing teeth can result in serious orthodontic problems of the permanent teeth.
These risks are reduced with:
- Thorough daily brushing and flossing
- A balanced diet and good nutrition
- Low-fluoride toothpaste
- Regular visits to the dentist
Tips to prevent ECC
- Clean your child’s teeth after breakfast and before bedtime
- If your child likes to suck on something while settling to sleep, offer a bottle of plan water or a plain dummy
- Teach your child to drink from a cup by about 12 months
- Phase out bottle-feeding by 12 months
- Encourage your child to drink water
- Your child’s first visit to a dentist should be about one year
Oral hygiene for your baby
- Gently wipe your baby’s gums with a warm and moist face cloth after every feeding
- When primary teeth start to grow, you may switch to a baby’s toothbrush and brush with plain water
- Don’t share spoons or taste your baby’s food with the same spoon as this can transfer decay-causing bacteria
- Wash a dropped dummy under running tap water
- Show your child your dental hygiene so they know how important it is
- Supervise your child’s brushing and flossing. Point out any missed areas
- Set a timer for them to brush for two minutes twice a day
- Teach them to brush their tongue
Eruption of primary teeth
Your baby’s first primary tooth usually erupts at about six months but can occur as early as birth or as late as one year. The average child has a full set of 20 primary teeth by the age of three.
- Frequent crying/crankiness
- Slight fever. If this persists, take your child to the doctor.
- Reddened cheeks and drooling
- Appetite loss and upset stomach
- More frequent soiled nappies
- Sucking or gnawing on toys
- Pulling of the ear on the same side as the erupting tooth
To relieve the pain, wash your hands then gently rub your baby’s gums with a clean finger. You can also give them a teething ring, a dummy, or wet washcloth to bite. NEVER give aspirin to a baby or child.
During a check up, the dentist may:
- Asses your child’s risk of dental problems
- Clean your child’s teeth
- Apply a flouride treatment
- Suggest how to manage tooth problems and prevent decay
- Advise the best care to give at home
- Take a diagnostic X-ray film
Anxiety of dental visits
Some children feel anxious or frightened to visit the dentist. Treat the appointment as an ordinary event rather than a “big deal”. Make sure your child isn’t tired or ill on the day of the appointment.
Brushing and Flossing Tips
- Start brushing teeth as soon as they erupt. Use a children’s toothbrush. Brush twice a day
- Start flossing as soon as two teeth are in side-by-side contact. Floss them once at the end of the day
- Children younger than 8-10 must be supervised
- Plaque-disclosing tablets contain food dye that turns plaque pink or red. These can help you see if your brushing technique removes plaque from every tooth surface.
If your toddler is being fussy try these suggestions:
- Put the toothbrush into the bath and they will likely put it in their mouths themselves
- Sing or play a favourite song as you brush
- Distract with a toy or TV
- Consider a battery-powered brush
- Offer a reward for brushing
Eruption of permanent teeth
A permanent tooth erupts into the gap left by the shed primary tooth. The loss of primary teeth is usually painless despite minor bleeding. Continue feeding your child a healthy diet through soft foods. Keep up the brushing routine and be gentle around the tender areas of the gum.
If a loose primary tooth will not fall out immediately, avoid yanking with a string as this can cause pain and infection.
See your dentist if:
- The permanent teeth are crowded, crooked, or misshapen and your child has trouble biting or chewing
- The permanent teeth show any surface discolouration
- Your child complains of sensitive teeth
- Sucking – children who continue to suck after permanent incisor teeth have erupted risk crooked permanent teeth. They may also develop a lisp
- Tooth grinding (bruxism) – may cause headaches, toothaches, and chips and damage to the teeth and risk a painful infection.
- Balanced diet
- Limit sugar
- Daily flossing and brushing
- Ask your dentist about xylitol
- Consider sugar-free alternatives to medicine
- Choose a low-fluoride toothpaste for children younger than 6