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Healthy teeth and gums are vital to your child’s general health. You can help your child develop strong, healthy teeth by making sure his teeth are cleaned twice a day.
Children usually start losing their baby teeth around six years of age. From 6-12 years, children have a mixture of adult and baby teeth. The baby teeth at the back are replaced around 10-12 years of age. By this age, most children have all their adult teeth except for the third molars (wisdom teeth). The adult teeth don’t get replaced, so you have to look after them.
If your child’s baby teeth came late, the adult teeth will probably be late too. If you’re concerned about your child’s teeth development, see your dentist.
When adult teeth are coming through:
- Your child might find chewing is more difficult when teeth are loose or missing.
- Encourage your child to eat a variety of healthy foods.
- Keep up your child’s teeth-brushing routine, taking extra care around the loose teeth or sensitive areas.
- Allow loose teeth to fall out on their own. If you try to pull out a tooth before it’s ready to fall out, it can break. This can cause pain and infection.
- Sometimes an adult tooth will come through before the baby tooth has fallen out. If the baby tooth hasn’t fallen out within 2-3 months, see your dentist.
Cleaning your child’s teeth
By the time your child reaches school, she might be starting to clean her own teeth. If so, it’s a good idea for you to either start or finish the cleaning process. Your child will still need your supervision and help until she’s at least eight years old.
Try the following when helping your child brush their teeth:
- Use a child’s toothbrush that has soft bristles of different heights to clean the teeth and gums properly.
- Stand or sit behind your child so he’s secure. Doing it in front of a mirror is good too, because it lets you see his mouth.
- Cup your child’s chin in your hands with his head resting against your body.
- Angle the bristles of the toothbrush towards the gum and move the brush in gentle circles to clean the outer and inner sides of the teeth and gums. Brush where the teeth and gums meet.
- Gently brush your child’s tongue.
Keeping the toothbrush clean
To reduce the risk of decay-causing germs, rinse the toothbrush and allow it to air-dry after each use. Make sure family members’ toothbrushes don’t touch each other when stored. And no sharing when it comes to toothbrushes! One for each family member is best.
Toothbrushes should be replaced every 3-4 months, or when the bristles get worn or frayed.
Clean between your child’s teeth once a day using a using a pik or string floss.
Toothpaste and fluoride
Fluoride helps build strong teeth and bones and prevent tooth decay.
Most children get enough fluoride from using a small amount of fluoride toothpaste twice a day. Make sure you check toothpaste ingredients for fluoride.
You need to use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste smeared onto the toothbrush. Encourage your child to spit the toothpaste out as you clean. She doesn’t need to rinse with water, though. The small amount of fluoridated toothpaste still in her mouth will help build strong, healthy teeth.
Did you know?
Cleaning and caring for children’s teeth early on sets up good dental habits for life and supports good dental health.
Other teeth concerns
Most children grow out of the habit of sucking thumbs and fingers from 2-4 years of age.
You can usually reverse the effects of thumb-sucking up to 5-6 years, because children still have their baby teeth. If children are still sucking after this age, dental problems can come up.
Vigorous finger-sucking (that’s when you hear a popping sound when a child takes thumb or fingers out of his mouth) and prolonged sucking can affect the growth of a child’s jaws and the alignment of teeth. If you’re concerned about your child’s sucking habits, talk to your dentist.
Teeth-grinding in school-age children is pretty common and doesn’t usually need treatment.
Some children clench their jaws quite firmly, and others grind their teeth so hard that it makes a noise. Some children grind their teeth during sleep. Most of the time, teeth-grinding doesn’t last and doesn’t cause damage to your child’s teeth. But if it does keep going, you might want to talk to a dentist. It could lead to your child experiencing headaches, tooth or jaw pain, or wearing down her teeth. Devices to protect teeth from grinding at night can help. You can get them from dentists.
Your dentist might recommend dental sealants for your school-age child.
Dental sealants are thin, plastic coatings that dentists bond to the chewing surfaces of teeth (where most cavities in children are found). These sealants stop plaque build-up in the grooves of teeth and help prevent tooth decay. The process of applying the sealant is simple and quick, with no pain and very little discomfort for your child.
Sealants don’t stay on your child’s teeth forever. Your dentist will check them regularly. They might sometimes need fixing or reapplying.
If you’re interested in dental sealants for your child, speak to your dentist.
Injuries to teeth
Injuries to your child’s face and teeth can occur when he’s running, climbing, riding scooters, biking or playing sports. It’s a good idea to see a doctor or dentist if your child damages his teeth or face.
If your child knocks out a baby tooth, don’t try and put it back in, as this can cause problems later on when the adult tooth starts to come through. Losing a baby tooth before it’s ready to come out usually isn’t a serious dental problem, but it’s important that you take your child to the dentist immediately for a check-up. Seeing the dentist and knowing that an adult tooth will eventually fill the space, and that pain or tenderness in the area will soon go, might help to reassure you and your child.
Losing an adult tooth is a bit more serious, but there are a few things you and your child can do that might keep him from losing his tooth permanently after an accident:
- Find the tooth.
- Hold the tooth by the top (“crown”), not the roots.
- If the tooth is dirty, rinse it in milk or tap water for a few seconds.
- Don’t let the tooth dry out.
- Put the tooth back in its socket immediately.
- Hold the tooth in place with aluminium foil. If you don’t have any aluminium foil handy, your child can bite down gently on a handkerchief.
- See your dentist immediately.
If for some reason you can’t replace the tooth in its socket (for example, your child is unconscious), put the tooth in milk, water or wrap it in plastic wrap and see your dentist immediately.
If your child chips or fractures a tooth, keep the piece of tooth and store it in milk. See your dentist immediately.
Mouth guards can help protect children’s teeth from knocks and falls. If your child plays sport, it’s a good idea to try to get her use to wearing a mouth guard from an early age.
There are three types of mouth guards:
- “boil and bite”, which you mould around your child’s teeth and jawbone
- customised, which are made by a dental professional. These provide the best protection because they’re specifically fitted to your child’s teeth and jaws
Mouth guards should:
- be thick enough (4 mm) to provide protection against impact
- fit snugly and be comfortable
- be odourless and tasteless
- allow normal breathing and swallowing
- allow normal speech
To help your child’s mouth guard stay clean and in good shape, you can make sure your child:
- rinses it before each use, and brushes with a non-abrasive toothpaste afterwards
- cleans it every now and then in soapy water, making sure to rinse it thoroughly
- carries it in a container that has vents
- doesn’t leave it in the sun or in hot water
Take the mouth guard along to your child’s dental visits to make sure it still fits correctly. The mouth guard might need to be replaced when changes happen in your child’s mouth, such as adult teeth coming through.
Visiting the dentist
Adults, teens and school-age children should visit their dentist once or twice a year.
© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.
Resources & Links:
Dental Care 6 Years to 16 Years
Dental Checkups for Children and Adults
Your Child and the Dentist
Knocked out Tooth – First Aid
Canadian Dental Association: Dental Care for Children