Developing good dental habits should start at birth rather than when your child’s first tooth appears. Follow a few simple guidelines and your child will be on the right path for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.
Don’t wait until your child’s teeth have erupted before you start thinking about their oral hygiene. Babies are born with 20 teeth, some fully developed in the jaw and others still growing. Before teething begins it’s important to wash away the bacteria on the gums. You can do this by gently rubbing the gums with a clean, wet flannel.
Once the first tooth appears, start brushing with a baby’s toothbrush and the smallest amount of baby toothpaste as you want to minimise the amount of paste swallowed. Once teeth touch, you can begin gently flossing between teeth.
Continue helping your child brush their teeth until they are in the early years of primary school. Children don’t develop the dexterity required to brush correctly until then.
Also, remind your child not to swallow the toothpaste and teach them how to swish and spit as soon as they can. Even when you no longer need to brush your child's teeth, continue supervising 'teeth time' to ensure thorough cleaning occurs.
Just because your baby’s diet doesn’t include processed sugar doesn’t mean they aren’t at risk of tooth decay. Babies put to bed with a bottle will fall asleep with the milk’s sugars sitting on their teeth eating away at the enamel. Only give your baby or toddler a bottle while they are out of bed, so there is time for their mouth to be cleared of the milk before sleep. Also, don’t let your toddler sip from a bottle or cup for hours throughout the day. Instead, give them a drink then take the bottle or cup away. Teeth that are constantly bathed in milk can become pitted and discoloured. Only milk or water should be offered as fruit juice, even when diluted, is damaging to their teeth.
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Some babies and young children will suck their thumb or fingers for comfort. Most children will stop the habit between the age of two and four, however, some children will continue for years.
Most dental problems occur when children with permanent teeth continue sucking. They are at risk of an overbite because their front teeth are pushed further forward than normal, an open bite when the top and bottom teeth don’t meet and a lisp. Encourage your child to stop thumb sucking by distracting, praising and rewarding them.
It is recommended that your child sees a dentist by their first birthday. Dentists can give parents information about correct brushing techniques for tiny mouths and will have a look in their mouth while your child is sitting on your lap.
It is recommended that children first see an orthodontist between the ages of eight and ten for an assessment. By this time, the first permanent molars and incisors are in so your orthodontist can check for potential problems with your child’s bite and crowding.
Some children may benefit from early treatment for protruding or very crowded teeth, but the majority will not need any treatment for years after the initial evaluation.
Learning how to properly care for your child’s teeth and gums from an early age will provide the best start to their future dental care. If you have any queries, ask your dentist or orthodontist.