Once the cries have died down and you’ve taken photos, a first tooth means it’s time to think about your tot’s oral health. Shockingly, children’s teeth seem to be low on the list of priorities for parents: a new study published in the British Dental Journal shows hospitals in England are treating more than 30,000 children for dental problems every year. What’s more, the most common age for having a rotten tooth removed is 5.
We all know cleaning routines are often met with tantrums, and visits to the dentist can be a daunting affair. But Mhari Coxon, a dental hygienist and chairman of the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy, says starting early builds good habits. “If children are taught how to care for their teeth from an early age, it becomes second nature and they are more likely to continue to look after their teeth well into adulthood,” she says.
When will my baby’s teeth come through?
You can expect to see a first tooth from about 6 months. The lower front two teeth (known as incisors) are usually the first to appear, while the rest will come through over the next two years. By the age of 2½ or 3, your child will have her full set of first teeth.
“These teeth help a child to bite and chew food, act as a guide for the adult teeth that are developing behind them and help a child to develop her speech,” says Mhari. “Remember, however, that babies do vary. Some have no teeth at a year and others are even born with a tooth or two.” Unlike body growth, the time your baby gets her first tooth is nothing to do with her health or diet – it happens when she’s ready.
When should we start brushing?
As soon as the first tooth appears, it’s time to start taking care of her teeth on a daily basis to guard against cavities. Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Dental Health Foundation (DHF), says: “Babies’ teeth should be cleaned by using a dab of paste on a soft-bristled toothbrush or a piece of gauze on the end of a finger. Try to make brushing a routine, preferably in the morning and last thing before your child goes to bed. Only a dab of fluoride pastes should be used up to age 3, and normal strength family fluoride toothpaste after that age.”
What about diet?
Oral hygiene includes making sure that what goes past her teeth doesn’t do damage. Sugary food and drinks can cause dental decay, and that includes fruit, juices and savoury foods. For babies, another concern is ‘baby bottle decay’, also known as ‘nursing decay’, where liquids frequently in touch with the teeth cause damage. “Ways to prevent this are to not let your child sleep with a bottle, encourage her to drink from a beaker after six months, and never dip a soother in anything sweet,” says Mhari.
When should I take her to the dentist?
A child can be registered with a dentist from six months, though some dentists don’t do checkups until your child has a good set of teeth. The DHF advises that children should visit the dentist by their first birthday. However, surveys indicate that 4 is more the average age for a first visit.
“It’s important you register your children at a young age because dentists are able to provide advice on early practices in order to prevent decay and identify cavities in primary teeth at an early stage,” says Dr Carter.
Try taking your baby along with you when you have a checkup so that she gets used to the surgery atmosphere and has a pleasant first visit to the dentist, rather than attending with a painful tooth as a first experience!
Mum’s Story – “Evie loved getting a sticker”
“I took Evie to the dentist once she had her full set of teeth. She was really timid and shy at first but she sat on my knee and soon relaxed, and loved it when she was given a sticker at the end. I won’t have any worries about taking her again,” said Vanessa Horton, 33, from Hampshire, mum to Evie, 23 months.
Make it fun
Cleaning teeth doesn’t have to be a chore, but as your child develops, brushing can be a challenge. Sitting her on your knee and cradling her can make things easier, and try singing a song or using products such as timers and fun brushes to encourage her.
Did your know…
“A foetus’s teeth start to develop during the fifth or sixth week of pregnancy. During this time, the nutrients they need to grow come from the food that the mother eats,” says Dr Nigel Carter