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There’s nothing cuter than a kid with a mouthful of shiny new teeth, but unfortunately those pearly whites won’t stay strong and healthy all on their own. The fact is there are several steps you need to take if you want to keep those toothy pegs in tip-top shape. Read on to learn exactly what those steps are and when you need to take them.
Kids develop teeth at different rates. One might bite into his first birthday cake with just a single tooth, while another might havea full set of front teeth. Either way, the Australian Dental Association says that most children will have cut all 20 of their baby teeth somewhere between the age of two-and-a-half and three years old. These teeth will eventually fall out and be replaced with permanent adult teeth, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore them while they’re here.
Childcare experts Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Murkoff and Sandee E. Hathaway, co-authors of What To Expect: The Toddler Years (Harper Collins), point out that though these baby teeth aren’t for keeps, they must take a child through the next five to 10 years of eating.“ The last of them won’t be replaced by permanent teeth until somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14,” they say. “And since each tooth is vulnerable to decay from the moment it breaks through, it’s important to make good dental hygiene a priority.” So what does good dental hygiene entail exactly? First and foremost, it means brushing both morning (after breakfast) and evening (before bed). If you’re really keen you can have your child brush after lunch as well.
Of course, brushing tiny teeth differs somewhat from the grown-up version. For one thing, you need to use a toothbrush designed specifically for kids (with a small head and soft rounded bristles) so it’s comfortable for a mini-sized mouth. Many brands design brushes that are age-appropriate so check the packaging. Choose one that has a design your child gets a kick out of – it could make all the difference!
Once you’ve got your brush, squeeze a pea-sized amount of kid-friendly toothpaste onto it. Next, it’s time for brushing. Start by using a circular motion along the outsides of the teeth, then brush with a back and forth motion along the insides. Finally, brush across the tops of their little chompers .
When you’re done, offer your child a turn of his own and make as much of a game out of it as you possibly can. You want him to get into the habit of brushing and to enjoy it if at all possible – at our house, we sometimes sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm. On other occasions we pretend we’re painting our teeth, rather than brushing them, and on really desperate occasions I’ve been known to use bribery.
If it works it’s worth doing, says Elizabeth Fenwick, author of The Complete Book of Mother & Baby Care (Dorling Kindersley). “At any age, the more of a game teeth cleaning seems, the more your child will be encouraged to cooperate,” says Elizabeth. “Playing dentists, cleaning your own teeth with him, and spitting out messily into the wash-basin will all help.”
By the time he’s two or three, your child will most likely want to brush his teeth on his own. Let him. But afterwards, finish the job yourself – he won’t be up to doing the task alone until he’s about seven or eight years old. When the brushing is done, give him a glass of water and encourage him to rinse his mouth clean. This will help to remove the toothpaste and also any loose bits of food.
At some point you’ll want to teach him how to floss. The Australian Dental Association recommends kids begin flossing as soon as all their primary teeth are in, but as any parent knows, that’s easier said than done. “Unless you have an unusually cooperative toddler, you will probably not be able to floss the entire mouth every night,” says Eisenberg, Murkoff and Hathaway.
Our advice? Give it a go, but if it’s too difficult, don’t panic. Simply show your child what flossing involves and then do your best. Eventually he’ll allow you to do it and incredibly enough, by the time he’s seven or eight years old, he’ll be able to floss all on his own.
There’s one other area you need to consider – your child’s diet. Like the rest of us, kids need to go easy on the sweet, sticky stuff and tuck into the healthy and fresh instead. If your child enjoys cheese, then encourage him to eat it after meals. It’s thought to decrease the chance of cavities and to strengthen tooth enamel.
Also take it easy with juice, as most brands are full of sugar. And don’t send your little one off to sleep with a bottle: the milk will remain on their teeth overnight, encouraging acid to form, leaving him at a higher risk of later developing cavities.
ASKING THE PROS
*The Australian Dental Association recommends a first visit to the dentist at 12 months, or shortly after the eruption of the first baby teeth. It might seem early, but if you look after your kid’s teeth now, he will have less chance of developing any problems down the track.
*Book in with a paediatric dentist if you can. “A dentist who is used to treating children will usually have developed techniques for minimising any fear,” says Dr Miriam Stoppard, author of Complete Baby & Child Care (Penguin).
*Before you go to the dentist, explain to your child what will happen and do your best to reassure him. If he becomes accustomed to visiting the dentist now, he will most likely remain comfortable for life.
*At your first appointment the dentist will inspect your child’s mouth, teeth and gums, and check for decay. He’ll probably also provide a professional clean and will advise on fluoride treatments.
*Regular six-monthly appointments are recommended.