Tooth Care

Good mouth care from birth sets the pattern for healthy teeth for life.

To maintain healthy teeth it is important to choose the right drinks and foods, to brush your teeth twice every day and to visit the dentist on a regular basis throughout your life.

(see also Bottle Feeding)

To maintain healthy teeth in children it is important to choose the right drinks and foods, to make sure teeth  are brushed twice every day and that visits to the dentist are made on a regular basis.

Tooth decay is still a major problem in this country, but it is preventable. Make sure your child knows how to use a toothbrush properly and choose a fluoride toothpaste to help strengthen the teeth.

Baby Teeth

Tooth care should start from birth, long before the primary teeth come through. The early months are the best opportunity to influence what a child will enjoy eating and drinking as he or she grows up, and to establish good habits that will reduce the risk of tooth decay in later years.

Milk, cooled boiled water and diluted fruit juice are all that are necessary for young babies. Sugar in drinks or food causes tooth decay. It is not just the amount of sugar that matters, but also how often there are sugary things in the mouth. This is why sugary drinks and sweets are so bad. They stay in the mouth for quite a long time. For this reason, babies’ bottles should never be used to give sweetened drinks. If they are given, they should be given at mealtimes. Beware of labels which say ‘low sugar' or ‘no sugar' which could disguise the fact that there is sugar in concentrated fruit juice, or an artificial sweetener such as Saccharin.

Older Children

Older children are risk from too many sweets, drinks, biscuits and cakes which provide most of the sugar in young people's diets. It is not necessary to cut these out of children's diets completely. However it is important to reduce them to a minimum and, if possible, to keep them for mealtimes. Sugar-free, diet and low-calorie drinks will not necessarily cause decay. However, the acid in some drinks such as fruit juice, squash and fizzy drinks, even diet ones, may attack the enamel of some people's teeth if they drink them frequently. Remember, too, that liquid medicines contain large amounts of sugar. Try and find sugar-free forms wherever possible.

If your child is hungry between mealtimes, try to encourage sugar-free snacks such as fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, yoghurt, milk or water. Avoid giving sweets as treats and rewards. Instead use stickers, hair slides, crayons, soap and badges.

Tooth Brushing

Start brushing your baby's teeth as soon as they appear in the mouth. This establishes the practice as a habit and protects the teeth with fluoride. Use a small baby brush and a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste.

At first, the brushing technique does not really matter. Once the child has started to accept the brush happily, his or her teeth can be brushed more thoroughly. One way your baby will learn is by watching you brush your own teeth. Make brushing fun.

As children get older they should be encouraged to brush their teeth twice a day, using fluoride toothpaste which strengthens teeth against decay and keeps them healthy. Use a small, pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Supervise children when they brush their teeth until they are at least 7 years of age. Clean the teeth with a gentle back and forward movement.

Buy a new toothbrush regularly: at least every 3 months. Choose small-headed brushes with soft or medium texture bristles to reach all the corners of the mouth. If possible, don't share brushes between children. Remember that older children often need reminding to brush their teeth. It is also worth checking that they've cleaned them properly.

Visiting the Dentist

• Register your child with a dentist even before the first teeth come through.

• Find a dentist who will register babies and young children and who will see them and give advice. Ask family and friends to recommend one. Your local health authority will also be able to help.

• Ask your dentist for advice on how to prevent tooth decay, what type of toothpaste to use and whether your baby needs fluoride drops or tablets.

• Children should visit the dentist at least once a year - more often if so advised by the dentist. Take your children with you when you go to the dentist to set a good example.

• The dentist can advise if your child needs extra protection against decay, for example fluoride tablets or fissure sealants which are plastic coatings placed on the biting surfaces of the teeth.

• If you think your child's teeth are crooked, ask the dentist for advice.

Remember that NHS dental treatment is free for expectant mothers, and for one year after giving birth. 

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