How to take care of children’s teeth

Hi everyone, it is Sophie here again with another post and today’s post is all how to take care of children’s teeth. As a Hygienist and Therapist at North Street Dental, I see lots of children and help them keep their teeth clean and healthy. But the majority of the work has to be done daily at home and it has to be done properly to make an impact.

Hopefully this post will give you some clarity on how to be looking after your little one’s pearly whites.

Watch our video on how to look after children’s teeth

Children’s teeth are made up slightly differently to adults teeth. For one they are smaller, obviously, but they are also slightly softer in texture. The enamel layer is the outer shell of the tooth and, fun fact, this is the strongest substance in our body! This outer layer protects the inner parts of the tooth which include the tooth’s nerve. This layer can be damaged most often by decay.

Decay is when sugars, plaque and acids are not removed from the tooth surface causing the enamel layer to break down creating access to the layers beneath, eventually reaching the nerve. That’s when we get toothache. In children, this enamel layer is thinner meaning the decay process can happen much quicker. We must be protecting that enamel layer and keep it strong and healthy.

Children cannot look after their own teeth properly until around the age of 7 and so it is important as care givers that we are giving their teeth the right care.

In dentistry we split our children’s advice into 3 sections: 0-3 years, 3-6 years and 7 years and over. The advice is just slightly different and changes as children get older. I’ll discuss each age group and the advice we give to them below:

0-3 Years – brush twice daily with a fluoride paste (1000ppm)

The babies and toddlers. One of the most popular questions we get asked for this group is “when should I start brushing my babies teeth?” and the answer is as soon as you can see them.

Typically babies start getting their baby teeth between the ages of 6 months and 12 months and parents will often know about it as their baby starts chewing things, gets more slobbery and gets a little grumpy. When their teeth make an appearance you can start brushing them with a baby brush, there are lots of different types on the market, and a smear of  fluoride toothpaste.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that strengthens that outer enamel of the teeth to protect against decay. Babies only require 1,000 ppm fluoride and most baby toothpastes include this amount (this information can be found on the back of the toothpaste packaging).

Children at this age can be a little tricky to manage toothbrushing, especially if they are teething. Try your best to get the brush onto the teeth, but if not, just rubbing the teeth with the paste can be sufficient enough for the time being.

How to look after children's teeth. 0-3 years old

Remember to keep tooth brushing a positive time. Use songs, their favourite toys, stories etc to encourage this positive behaviour. Children often respond well to mirroring so having someone else brushing such as a sibling or parent while they do it can be encouraging.

There are lots of videos on YouTube of fun characters they will recognise encouraging brushing. Counting teeth in the mirror can also be a fun way to get them involved with tooth care, If you have a wriggler, try holding them on your lap and gently hold their forehead with one hand, this can help steady them.

Children of this age should be taken to the dentist as soon as their teeth start to show. Not only does it allow the dentist to have a check of their teeth but it also allows them to get used to the sights, smells and experience of going to the dentist. The dentist will often just have a small look round whilst a parent holds the child on their lap, often look in your mouth at the same time.

3-6 Years – brush twice daily with a fluoride paste (1000ppm)

This age group are now starting to get more aware of brushing their teeth and the reasons why we should brush them. Educational videos and stories can be useful for helping to teach children about the importance of tooth brushing and going to the dentist for a check up.

Children of this age still respond well to mirroring and making brushing interactive so brushing with another parent or sibling and looking into the mirror at their own teeth and counting them can be a goof tactic.

This age group should still be supervised with their brushing as they do not yet have the dexterity to brush all their teeth properly. I normally encourage children to do a little brushing themselves and then letting an adult “double check” by getting to all the teeth properly. This age group also respond well to rewards systems so sticker charts can be useful and also their are apps available to follow your child’s brushing.

How to take care of children's teeth. 3-6 years old

Children should be aiming to brush for 2 minutes each brush, morning and evening. You can buy cheap egg or sand timers that can be kept on the kitchen sink to help them brush for this time. Electric brushes suitable for their age can also give timers or sing a song that lasts for 2 minutes.

This age group can now also be using a pea sized amount of toothpaste as they now have more teeth to clean. Encourage the child to spit away the toothpaste with spit, don’t rinse as rinsing after brushing washes away the goodness of the toothpaste.

Children of this age group should also be visiting the dentist at lease once a year and some may encourage twice a year. This helps keep your child used to the dental environment but also checking for any signs of decay and preventing tooth decay before it occurs.

7 Years and over – brush twice daily with a fluoride paste (1350ppm)

This age group are now starting to get their adult teeth through. Baby teeth or milk teeth start to become wobbly around the ages at 6 and 7. Once the tooth has come out (and the tooth fairy has made a visit) an adult tooth will start to grow in its place. The adult tooth will then hopefully be in your child’s mouth for the rest of their life so it is important they have good habits that can continue as they grow up.

This age group are now normally able to brush without supervision but you may wish to keep them encouraged and remind them when and how long they should be brushing for. An electric toothbrush for their age group may also be suitable now to keep them motivated and also get them into a good cleaning routine. Electric brushes are less technique sensitive so great for younger ages. I have a separate post all about brushing that is suitable for all ages.

How to take care of children's teeth. 7 years and older

This group can now also be using a higher fluoride paste to help their new adult teeth doing through. A 1350ppm fluoride paste is now the recommended amount and toothpaste packaging is good at marketing to the correct age group. If you are unsure how much fluoride is in your paste, always check the back of the packaging and it will tell you the amount. You can also speak to your dental professional if you have concerns.

This group should also still be going to the dentist regularly for check ups either once or twice yearly depending on what your dentist recommends.

Teeth to last a lifetime

As you can see for each age group, the routine is pretty similar and is the same routine as they begin their teen years and then into adulthood. Brush twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste for 2 minutes at a time and make regularly visits to your dentist. Interdental cleaning comes in once they start to get adult teeth that touch together. I also have a separate post and video on Interdental Cleaning.

If you are unsure about any of the advice given in this post or your child hasn’t been to the dentist, make sure to get them booked in. If their teeth are healthy, they could last them a lifetime!