Healthy teeth and gums are vital to your preschooler’s general health. Dental care for children’s teeth starts with cleaning your child’s teeth twice a day.
Children’s teeth development
Baby teeth can arrive in any order, although the central bottom teeth are often first. Most children have a full set of 20 baby teeth by the time they’re three years old. Children get teeth at different times.
The 32 adult teeth replace the baby teeth between the ages of 6 and 20 years. The adult teeth don’t get replaced, so you have to look after them.
Dental care: keeping your child’s teeth clean
Brush your child’s teeth twice a day – morning and night. Use a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste on a child-size toothbrush.
Your child might want to start helping to clean her own teeth. Letting her hold the toothbrush with you will help her feel she’s part of the action. But your child will need your help and supervision with cleaning teeth until she’s about eight years old.
Ask your dentist about whether you need to floss your child’s teeth.
From his preschool years on, encourage your child to rinse his mouth with water after lunch and snacks. This will help to wash away any leftover food.
Just keeping teeth clean isn’t a guarantee against tooth decay
– diet is also important to your child’s oral health.
The best way to brush your child’s teeth
You might like to try the following routine when brushing your child’s teeth:
- Stand or sit behind your child so she feels secure. Being in front of a mirror is good too, because it lets you see your child’s mouth.
- Cup your child’s chin in your hands, with his head resting against your body.
- Angle the bristles of the toothbrush towards the gum. Move the brush in gentle circles to clean the outer and inner sides of the teeth and gums. Lift your child’s lips to brush the front and back of the teeth and at the gum line.
- Brush back and forth on the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
- Gently brush your child’s tongue.
- After brushing encourage your child to spit out toothpaste, not swallow it. There’s no need to rinse after brushing because the fluoride toothpaste left behind protects your child’s teeth.
If you’re using an electric toothbrush, avoid moving the brush in circles. Keep your hand still, and guide the brush across your child’s teeth and gums.
Children are more likely to go along with cleaning teeth if it’s fun and part of a daily routine. For example, you can sing ‘This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth, so early in the morning’ while you’re brushing. Or you could pretend the toothbrush is a train, saying ‘Toot toot chugga chugga’ as you move it around your child’s teeth.
It’s important to choose the right toothbrush – one designed especially for children aged 2-5 years. These toothbrushes have small oval heads, soft bristles of different heights and a non-slip, cushioned handle. They also often have cartoons and fun designs on the handle, which your child might like.
The novelty of electric toothbrushes might also appeal to your child. Some electric toothbrushes can give a slightly better clean than manual brushes, but it’s best to go with what your child prefers.
Keeping toothbrushes clean
After cleaning your child’s teeth and gums, rinse the toothbrush with tap water.
Store the toothbrush upright in an open container to allow it to air-dry. If other family members’ toothbrushes are stored in the same place, make sure the brushes don’t touch. This reduces the risk that decay-causing germs will travel between brushes and into your child’s mouth. And no sharing when it comes to toothbrushes! One for each family member is best.
You should replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months, or when the bristles get worn or frayed.
Toothpaste and fluoride
You can start using a low-fluoride toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush from 18 months of age.
Fluoride is a mineral that helps build strong teeth and bones and prevents tooth decay. If children take in too much fluoride, it can cause fluorosis, which is a build-up of white marks on the teeth. Although this affects the appearance of the teeth, it doesn’t usually affect health.
Most tap water in Australia has very low amounts of added fluoride. Fluoride is safe and helps teeth grow strong. Fluoride works best when you get it in very small amounts throughout the day in fluoridated tap water, foods and drinks containing fluoride, and low-fluoride toothpaste.
Video Dental care for children
This short dental care video shows you how to care for kids’ teeth. It includes advice on encouraging children to drink tap water, brushing children’s teeth as soon as the first ones are through, avoiding sugary drinks, and not taking bottles of milk to bed.
Visiting the dentist
Children should visit the dentist to have their teeth checked by the time they’re two. This lets your child get to know the dentist. It also gives you and your dentist a chance to talk about your child’s dental health needs and plan your child’s dental care.
Your child might not always see a dentist – many other oral health professionals are fully qualified to give you advice and work on your child’s teeth, depending on your child’s needs. They include dental therapists, dental hygienists and oral health therapists.
Dental health care in Australia
Dental care for children is often free in the public dental system, up to a certain age. Contact your local public dental provider for details.
There are private dental clinics
all over Australia. You’ll have to pay for your appointments, but people with private health insurance might get some money back from their private health fund.