With this week (August 6-12) marking Dental Health Week, there's no better time to brush up and ensure that everyone in the family is looking after their teeth. Sydney Local Health District's Head of Oral Health Promotion and Research, Dr Shilpi Ajwani, explains how to keep your child's smile bright and healthy, from the appearance of their very first tooth.
“The mouth is the gateway to the body and is not only important for eating, speaking and a beautiful smile.
“Your oral health reflects to a large extent, your general health,” says Dr Ajwani, “so it is very important to looking after your oral health and prevent diseases.”
You could understand why many parents don’t focus too much on baby teeth – because they eventually fall out – but these little teeth have a big role to play.
Dr Ajwani says the development of cavities or holes in baby teeth increases the likelihood of cavities in permanent teeth.
So, when is the best time to start brushing your little one’s teeth?
“As soon as that first tooth appears,” she says.
“Initially, children’s teeth and gums should be cleaned by an adult twice a day with a small, soft toothbrush and water. From about 18 months of age, it’s time to start using a low fluoride toothpaste, with just a pea-sized amount on the brush,” Dr Ajwani says.
While some toddlers will be keen to start brushing their own teeth, Dr Ajwani recommends parents continue to lead the brushing until children are about eight or nine years old.
“Young children do not have the dexterity to brush effectively and need assistance,” she says.
While brushing twice a day is an important habit to teach children, Dr Ajwani says the other part of looking after teeth is avoiding sugary foods and drinks.
“To help prevent tooth decay, it’s important to minimise the availability of ‘sometimes’ foods that are high in sugar, like cakes, biscuits, pastries, lollies, chocolate and packaged treats such as muesli bars.
“Sugary drinks like juice, soft drink and cordial contribute to tooth decay as well, water is always the best option,” Dr Ajwani says.
If you do want to occasionally offer sugary treats, straight after a meal is the best time.
“There is usually an increased amount of saliva in the mouth around mealtimes, making it easier to wash food away from teeth,” Dr Ajwani says.