With statistics showing that over 58% of Australian children have tooth decay in their adult teeth by the time they reach the age of fourteen, it’s clear that it’s never too early to begin teaching good oral hygiene to children. Parents as consistent role models are key to setting daily routines and helping their children understand the importance of having healthy teeth, but how do we start teaching kids healthy habits early? Here is our guide to dental hygiene for kids.
A good oral hygiene routine should start when your child’s baby teeth first appear
Primary or ‘baby’ teeth in children start to appear from the age of six months, with most teeth being evident by around two and a half years of age. And although baby teeth fall out to make way for adult teeth eventually, that doesn’t mean that cleaning them isn’t important. Baby teeth are essential tools for both chewing and learning to talk, and they also play a vital role in the proper spacing and alignment of future permanent teeth. Unfortunately, because baby teeth have enamel that is less densely mineralised than the enamel of permanent teeth, they are also very susceptible to cavities.
The process of ensuring your child has healthy teeth should start from when their baby teeth first appear, so that by the time they are around three years of age they are well aware of what it takes to keep teeth healthy. Brushing should be done with your assistance until they are about seven or eight, and flossing should start when they have developed two teeth that are in contact. Setting up a proper dental hygiene routine in the early stages will build the foundations for the development of strong, healthy and well-established permanent teeth.
Helping your child brush their teeth can be tricky, but persistence is the key
Helping your child to develop a healthy dental routine is about exactly that – routine! Set brushing-teeth-time after breakfast and just before your child goes to bed, and remember to encourage your child, as praise will often get great results.
Brush their teeth and along their gum line in a circular motion for at least two minutes, cleaning a few teeth at a time, and encourage your child to spit out toothpaste after brushing but not rinse. That way the fluoride stays in their mouth for longer and is more effective. Once your child is 18 months of age, you can use a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste, and at age six you can then switch to a standard toothpaste.
To assist with correct dental hygiene, choose a toothbrush with a small head and soft bristles, or an electric toothbrush, which can up the fun value! Children should be assisted or supervised with brushing until they are around seven or eight, and with flossing until they are around ten.
It’s important to keep up a healthy dental routine when their permanent teeth appear and beyond!
Although permanent teeth are already partly formed in children from birth to three years of age, ‘eruption’ only occurs later in life, from about six years of age, when their 32 permanent teeth (16 up top and 16 in the lower jaw) replace their 20 baby teeth. During this time, their mouths contain both baby and permanent teeth, meaning that the reservoirs of bacteria in any of their baby teeth that have cavities can easily attack the immature enamel of the new permanent teeth. That’s why good dental hygiene is important at any age!
Limit their sugar intake and make sure your kids have a healthy diet and drink lots of water
In order to develop a sound dental hygiene for kids, children need a healthy balanced diet full of fresh foods from the five food groups every day. These include fruit and vegetables, lean meats, grains, and dairy foods that are an excellent source of calcium, which helps form strong teeth and bones and is essential for healthy teeth and gums. Foods like milk, soy beverages and salmon contain vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium, and minerals like phosphorous (found in meat, fish and eggs) and magnesium (found in whole grains, spinach and bananas) also help with the formation of tooth enamel.
You should also limit your child’s intake of foods and snacks that are high in sugar, as bacteria in the mouth reacts to sugar contained in foods and produces acids that dissolve and damage the teeth. Hello, tooth decay! High-sugar foods include lollies, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, pastries, donuts, jams and muesli bars. Yep, all the stuff they enjoy.
Water should be your child’s main drink of choice, and fluoridated tap water is the best option as fluoride protects teeth from decay. Sweet drinks like soft drinks, sports drinks, cordials and ‘no added sugar’ juices that contain natural sugars can all cause tooth decay, and diet soft drinks contain acids which can also damage teeth.
Talk with your oral health professional about when and how often you should visit
Your oral health professional can guide you on the appropriate time for your child’s first visit, but it’s normally within six months of their first tooth appearing. In order to ensure their future going-to-the-dentist-experiences are positive, it’s a good idea to take them with you to one of your own appointments so they can see what happens. You should also be positive about dental visits, highlight the fun aspects of visiting the dentist and talk regularly about why dental visits are part of regular routines that help people to keep healthy. Having regular check-ups can help your dentist spot problems early and identify the early stages of tooth decay so that it can be treated as soon as possible.
To help you establish a good dental hygiene plan for your kids, you can also research Family Tax Benefit payments and government programs like the Child Dental Benefits Schedule, which can provide financial benefits for basic dental services to children aged between two and 17 years.