23 June 2017

Caring for your Childs First Teeth

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by Donna O'Toole

I am a full time mum to a lovely 11 month old little girl, I am also a qualified dental nurse and the wife of a dentist. I have many friends with small babies and children and I have found that I am frequently asked for practical advice on the best way to look after their teeth and when to take them to the dentist. As I know the pressure and anxiety that can come with making the right decisions for the good of your children I decided to write this article to try and allay a few fears and dispel a few myths!

So to start at the beginning, during pregnancy your hormone levels rise and this can cause your gums to soften and bleed. It is therefore very important to clean your teeth and gums effectively during this time. Ensure that you are removing all the plaque from the gum area by using a toothbrush with a small head as well as floss or an inter-dental brush for in between the teeth. Regular visits to the hygienist will also help to prevent an onset of gum disease and to maintain good cleaning. It is essential to try and continue this process once your baby is born.

However as we all know, when you have a baby time is of the essence and standing in the bathroom for three minutes twice a day can seem like an eternity. An electric toothbrush can make things easier. You don't need anything expensive or fancy, just look for one with a small head, you can pick them up in the chemist for about 15.

Once your baby is about six months old you should be ready for your regular check up. This is a great opportunity for the baby to become used to going to the dentist too. Mums and Dads often worry that their babies and children will be frightened by a visit to the dentist. However this is not usually the case, as unless they have had a previous bad experience, the child has no reason to worry. Small babies find the surgery incredibly interesting, with all the bright lights and shiny mirrors, and young children often get very excited at the prospect of having their teeth counted and being rewarded with a sticker. In fact they even tell us which sticker they are going to choose next time they come to see us! It doesn't take long for these visits to become just another part of day to day life and there is no need to worry about the costs adding up as children are entitled to free NHS dental treatment until they are eighteen years old.

As soon as your baby's first tooth comes through it is important to introduce them to a toothbrush. A small headed, soft baby toothbrush is ideal. Let them play with it and chew it under your supervision, and incorporate it into your morning and bedtime routine, this way they will get used to it very quickly. When they have finished playing with it use it to give the tooth a quick clean using a small pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste for milk teeth, this will help to protect the teeth from decay. If you are thinking of using fluoride drops please speak to your dentist for advice first. A good way of getting older children to brush their teeth for long enough is to allow them to play their favourite song whilst brushing their teeth for the duration!

Diet is also one of the most important factors in keeping your children's teeth healthy. Being aware of the sugar content in food should start as soon as you begin to wean your baby. Only allow your baby to drink water or milk from a bottle. If you want to give them juice then make sure that it is only ever given in a cup or beaker and only at meal times. Look for juices that are sugar free, not just reduced sugar. If you would like them to drink natural fruit juice, such as orange or apple, then remember that it has a high content of natural sugar as well as natural acids and should only be given at meal times. Soya milk also has a high sugar content and can cause tooth decay.

Try to keep any sweet food to meal times and give fruit or a savoury snack in between meals. Check the labels on the food that you give your children, many foods contain hidden sugar, and try to buy the sugar free alternatives to food such as rusks. Older children often respond well to the responsibility of looking at these labels and deciding how much sugar is contained. Remember, the higher up the list of ingredients, the higher the amount. For older children who have rewards such as sweets, try to keep these treats to once a week. It is actually better to eat them all at once rather than have a continuous assault of sugar on the teeth over a whole day. You could also encourage them to choose chocolate over sticky, chewy sweets as this goes down much quicker! They should then brush their teeth after allowing half an hour for the sugary acid in their mouth to neutralise.

For many people a visit to the dentist is a daunting prospect, and something that we like to do as little as possible. In fact it can be very tempting to avoid going altogether! However, the best way to keep your visits to a minimum is actually to attend regularly, to go every six months for a check up and possibly a clean and to pay attention to your diet. This way you can be given the correct advice for looking after your teeth and gums, preventing problems from occurring or catching them whilst they are still small. Most importantly it will set a great example to your children and stand them in good stead for having healthy teeth for the rest of their lives.


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