The importance of caring for first teeth

The state of the nation’s oral health has made headlines recently, with professionals voicing serious concern about our children’s teeth.

Author: Rhiane Kirkby

The latest research shows that almost a third of five year olds are suffering from tooth decay and it’s the most common reason why five to nine year olds are admitted to hospital.  Shocking statistics especially when you consider that tooth decay is, in almost all cases, entirely preventable.

Dentists say it’s vital good habits are established early and that milk teeth are taken care of as soon as they appear.  Baby teeth are more susceptible to decay than adult teeth because of the way they’re formed.  They have thinner enamel which is less resistant to bacteria.  Despite this, the care of these first teeth is often regarded as a low priority by parents who think “they’ll fall out anyway”, but the consequences of neglecting them can last a lifetime.  Baby teeth that are lost or decayed can interfere with speech and nutrition and also make permanent teeth crooked.  

It’s recommended you start to brush teeth as soon as they appear.  Baby toothbrushes can be used or a clean, damp flannel or finger brush.  Wipe over the teeth and also the gums after meals and before bed – but be gentle as baby teeth are soft.   There’s no need to use toothpaste at this point – but if you do make sure it’s for babies and the amount you use is no bigger than a grain of rice.  And throw away toothbrushes after two to four months or as soon as they start to become worn to prevent harmful bacteria from building up.

As babies grow into toddlers, they’ll be less likely to let you brush for them and will want to try it for themselves.  Let them do this even if they’re not doing a very good job, just make sure you follow it up with a quick clean yourself.   They may also decide that tooth brushing isn’t for them – this is where character brushes and toothpastes come into their own.  Products designed to entice children into brushing are multiplying in number from talking toothbrushes and tasty pastes to free to download ‘brush to the music’ apps, such as Brush DJ and Aquafresh Brush Time.  The Royal College of Dental Surgeons advises that teeth should be brushed with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes twice a day and suggests parents supervise this for at least the first eight years.

It’s not just about the brushing though…. good nutrition is also vital for dental health.  Make sure your baby has a balanced diet and limit the amount of sugar – especially refined sugars and sticky natural sugars, such as those found in dried fruit.  Whilst it’s tempting to turn to those trusted packets of raisins to bribe or silence a tetchy toddler, the NHS advises parents to restrict them to mealtimes.   If you do give your baby a sugary snack or one high in carbs then follow it with a piece of cheese. Cheese is not only rich in calcium, it also helps to clear damaging acids and sugars from the mouth. Dentists also recommend you switch from a bottle to a cup as soon as you can as bottles containing milk or juice have been proven to cause tooth decay as they allow the fluids to pool around the teeth.

Parents can only do so much and The Royal College of Dental Surgeons suggests you register your child with a dentist as soon as the first teeth appear and go at least once a year – more frequently if you notice anything that worries you.  “A healthy smile begins with a child,” “grow up smiling” and “beautiful smiles for life” may on the surface be cheesy slogans but the dentists who use them say they carry a serious message.  As a profession, they can’t stress enough the benefits of instilling good oral hygiene habits in the young.