Body & Fitness

Ten ways to prevent tooth decay

Start dental education early – your kids will thank you for it later!

It’s a statistic we should be ashamed of. Around 13% of Kiwi kids aged five suffer from such bad tooth decay, it affects their ability to sleep and eat properly, and it causes such severe pain, they can’t concentrate on their school work.

In a country that has free dental care for kids up to the age of 18, that sort of thing should be unheard of. But unfortunately many parents don’t think about the health of their kids’ teeth until they get to school and start having regular check-ups, and even then, there’s often an attitude of, “They’re just first teeth – they don’t really matter.”

But it is crucial to look after your children’s teeth from the minute they come through, because decay that appears in early childhood can lead to serious infections and may cause long-term developmental problems. In severe cases, children who have rotten and painful teeth can have low body weight and growth issues. Plus having lots of cavities when you’re a child makes you more likely to have decay when you’re an adult.

Teaching your children good habits as soon as they have teeth can have long-lasting effects. Here are 10 top tips.

1. Start brushing their teeth as soon as they first appear. Use a small, soft baby brush and water. Begin using an age-appropriate toothpaste as soon as they are old enough.

2. Remember that what they eat and drink is vitally important to the health of their teeth. Limit sweet foods, especially those that stick to teeth, like chewy lollies.

3. If they want snacks, give them non-sugary foods, such as vegetables (carrot and celery snacks are great) or those rich in protein, such as cheese.

4. Popcorn is a good snack (go easy on the salt and butter), but don’t let your kids crunch on unpopped corn kernels. These are so hard, it’s like eating stones and they can damage teeth. Similarly, don’t let them chew on ice cubes.

5. Fruit is also better for your kids than lollies or other sweet snacks, but take it easy on those with a high sugar content, such as bananas. Raisins and other dried fruit are also sugary and if they’ve been eating those, they should clean their teeth afterwards.

6. It’s better to let your children eat sweet treats all in one go (and then clean their teeth) than spread eating them out over several hours, as there is a longer timeframe for bacteria that causes acid to eat through tooth enamel.

7. If they can’t brush their teeth straight after eating, get them to rinse their mouth out with water – this removes the dangerous sticky coating from their teeth.

8. Children can have difficulty being dexterous enough to clean their teeth properly until they are around 10 years old.While you need to encourage them to clean their teeth themselves, it is a good idea to help them clean their teeth at least once a day, preferably before bedtime.

9. Get them flossing as soon they have two teeth that are touching.

10. If you do allow your kids to have sweet treats, the best time to serve them is straight after a meal. That’s because there is usually an increased amount of saliva in the mouth due to having just eaten, making it easier to wash away food particles stuck to teeth.

Image: Paul Suesse/

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