Children’s teeth – how to look after your little one’s pearly whites

Brush up on your tooth wisdom so your kids' teeth are on the straight and narrow

It’s not a statistic we can be proud of. Around 44% of five-year-olds in New Zealand have at least one decayed, missing or filled tooth – making our dental health figures among the worst in the developed world.

our kids have more problems with their teeth than youngsters in Australia, the UK and the US, and even though the government has spent more than $400 million on trying to improve the situation in the last four years there has been little improvement.

Good dental hygiene should be established as early as possible, and it’s up to parents to teach their children about looking after their teeth. But how much do you really know about oral health?

You don’t have to worry about your child’s dental health until they have all their baby teeth.

False – You need to start looking after kids’ oral hygiene before they even get teeth. Bacteria can build up in their mouth after feeds and can damage the soft tissue of the gums. Wrap a damp muslin cloth around your finger and rub around their gums with it very gently to remove any bacteria that may be there.

Brushing should be a part of children’s daily routine as soon as they have teeth.

True – Buy a special soft “baby’s brush” and brush their teeth with it. once they have two teeth alongside each other, start flossing between them. You will need to brush and floss for them until they’re at least five, because it’s a tricky task for little hands. Even after that you should still supervise them regularly to make sure they are doing it correctly.

Babies can suffer from tooth decay too.

True – Don’t assume it will be years before they’re likely to have any dental health problems. Even babies can have tooth decay, especially if they’re allowed to suck on a bottle all day.

It doesn’t matter if your child’s baby teeth end up with cavities, because they’ll all eventually fall out.

False – Do whatever you can to avoid cavities. Not only can they cause toothache, but they can result in infections, which can spread throughout their mouth. An infection can affect the nerves and other teeth, as well as damage their gums, and they can be extremely painful. In some cases the tooth may need to be extracted, and although a permanent tooth will eventually come through to replace it, having a baby tooth missing for longer than it should can affect the way the rest of their teeth come through.

Giving your child fruit juice is much better for their teeth than soft drinks.

False – Yes, soft drinks are loaded with sugar – which is terrible for teeth – but so are fruit juices. They’re especially bad for children if they’re sipped over a long period of time, as the sugar from the drink can sit on teeth and cause decay. Juices and soft drinks both also contribute to dental erosion by making the mouth more acidic, which provides an ideal environment for the bacteria that causes cavities.

The acids soft drinks and juices contain can soften the hard enamel coating, and affect the ability of saliva to repair teeth. Sugar-free soft drinks contain the same acids as other soft drinks.

Giving your child a bottle of milk in bed each night is bad for their teeth.

True – Bottles of milk at bedtime are just as bad for children’s dental health as bottles of fruit juice. oilk actually contains natural sugars that can lie on and around teeth for a long time. Because children’s saliva flow is reduced while they’re asleep, these sugars aren’t washed away, and bacteria can then feed on them, forming acids that eat into the teeth and begin the process of decay. So always remember to brush!

You should take your child to the dentist as soon as they start teething.

True – Your child should be having regular dental checks from the moment they have teeth. Schedule their first appointment around the time of their first birthday. This visit is more for you than them – the dentist or dental nurse can show you how to look after their teeth properly.

Make sure you then go regularly. Not only can this help you keep on top of your child’s dental health, but it can help them feel more relaxed about visiting the dental clinic.

Top tips

  • If you’re giving your child fruit juice, get them to drink it through a straw. This means the juice bypasses  their teeth and is swallowed straightaway, rather than being swilled around in their mouth.

  • After your child has had a snack, give them water to sip. This can help to dilute the acid left on their teeth.

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