Early oral health education paves the way for good oral health habits and routines that can last a lifetime. The latest research finds that in Essex alone 14% of children under the age of 5 need dental treatment despite dental decay being preventable, so how can families support children in good oral health?

3 steps to good oral health:

  • Tooth brushing
  • Regular visits to the Dentist and a
  • Healthy diet

Tooth Brushing
It is never too early to start caring for your baby’s teeth. Did you know that tooth brushing is recommended from when your child’s first tooth breaks through?

Brush at least twice a day using a small headed toothbrush to remove bacteria and to prevent the build-up of plaque. Brush last thing before bed and at one other time (ideally 1 hr after eating). Brush thoroughly using small circular motions along the gum line and all tooth surfaces, ideally for 2 mins – a timer can prove useful.

Brushing at bedtime is key so the fluoride continues to protect the teeth while your child sleeps. For children over the age of 1 brush after their bedtime milk as milk contains natural sugars.

Use fluoride toothpaste – Children under 3 should use a smear of toothpaste, children over 3 should use a small pea sized amount on their toothbrush, providing they can spit out, if unable to spit or have swallowing difficulties a smear is recommended. Toothpaste for young children should contain no less than 1000 ppm of fluoride – the amount of fluoride in the toothpaste can be found on the side of the tube or on the packaging.

Do not rinse after brushing, rinsing washes away the fluoride that protects your child’s teeth.

Support your child to brush/ help brush their teeth until they are at least 7 years old. Adult supervision means you can make sure that the teeth are cleaned properly, that the correct amount of toothpaste is used and to prevent your child from licking or eating the toothpaste! Do not let your baby/toddler walk around with their toothbrush in their mouth as this can cause injury if they fall over. To begin, you might find it helpful to sit your child on your lap facing away from you with the back of their head against your chest and sit in front of a mirror so you and your child can see what you are doing.

As your child becomes more independent you can build upon toothbrushing routines together. As age/stage appropriate talk to your child about the importance of toothbrushing and make toothbrushing fun using songs, games, and lots of praise. Let your child choose a toothbrush in their favourite colour or with their favourite character on to encourage toothbrushing and remember to replace the toothbrush around every 3 months or when the bristles become sprayed.

Dentist
Register your child at a dentist as soon as their first tooth comes though. It is recommended that all children have a dental check by 1 year of age, followed by regular 6 monthly check-ups (or as often as your dentist recommends). NHS dental treatment for children is free. Visiting early helps get into the habit from a young age – your child can get used to the sights, sounds, and smells of a dental practice and the dentist will check normal tooth development, can pick up any problems early and support you in looking after your child’s teeth.

Diet
What children eat effects their oral health. Sugars in food and drinks is one of the main contributing factors to tooth decay. Most sugars come from obvious sources, chocolate, sweets, sugary drinks but some foods with high sugar content are less obvious such as some yogurts, sauces, and breakfast cereals. Opt for sugar smart snacks /meals, drinks and where possible, sugar free teething gels and medicines.

  • Milk and water are the best drinks for your child.
  • Choose tooth friendly snacks such as vegetable and fruit sticks, cheese strips, plain rice cakes for example.

It is important to remember that it is not only the amount of sugar that can affect the teeth, but the frequency in which sugars are consumed. Sugary snacks/drinks consumed during the day effect our mouth PH levels, leading to acid attacks. Ongoing acid attacks weaken tooth enamel and leave them vulnerable so keeping any sweet snacks to main mealtimes helps to reduce the number of acid attacks.

Prolonged bottle use has been linked to tooth decay which is why it is recommended to introduce a free flow cup from 6 months, with the aim to eliminate the use of a bottle by 1 year. When a child drinks from an open top cup/ Doidy cup the liquid is sipped (rather than sucked) so goes to the back of their mouth instead of pooling around the front teeth, so less risk of tooth decay. Prolonged sucking on a teat/ dummy can also change the shape of the teeth and jaw which can affect speech development.

If you would like support in helping your child establish a good toothbrushing routine, please speak to your child’s Key Person.