Between 6 and 12 years, children have a mixture of adult and baby teeth. By the age of 12, most children have all their adult teeth except for their third molars (wisdom teeth). There are 32 adult teeth.
When adult teeth are coming through
Your child might find chewing is more difficult when their baby teeth are loose or missing, but your child still needs to eat healthy foods.
It’s important for your child to keep up their teeth-brushing routine, taking extra care around loose baby teeth or sensitive areas. But let loose teeth fall out on their own. If you or your child tries to pull out a tooth before it’s ready to fall out, it can injure the gums and nearby teeth. This can cause pain and infection.
Sometimes an adult tooth will come through before the baby tooth has fallen out. If the baby tooth hasn’t fallen out within 2-3 months, see your dentist.
Dental care: keeping pre-teens’ teeth clean
Brushing teeth is important for keeping teeth clean and preventing bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease. At this age, your child probably doesn’t need your help to clean their teeth anymore. But if your child needs a reminder, here are the basic steps:
- Use a pea-sized amount of regular adult fluoride toothpaste.
- Aim the toothbrush at a 45° angle to the gumline. If you’re using a manual toothbrush, move the brush in gentle circles. If you’re using an electric toothbrush, move the brush gently across the teeth.
- Start with the top teeth. Brush the outside surface of the teeth and along the gumline, one tooth at a time. Then brush the inside surface of the teeth and gums, one tooth at a time.
- Move to the bottom teeth and repeat the step above.
- Brush along the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
- Gently brush the tongue.
- Brush for around 2 minutes.
- Spit out the toothpaste as you clean. There’s no need to rinse with water, though. Any leftover fluoride toothpaste helps to build strong, healthy teeth.
As well as brushing, your child can use waxed dental floss or an interdental brush to clean between their teeth once a day. Your child might still need your help to do this.
Toothbrushes: choosing and keeping them clean
Choosing a toothbrush
When you and your child are choosing a toothbrush, you can look for the following:
- Soft bristles: these won’t damage your child’s gums or tooth enamel.
- A long handle: this will help your child reach all their teeth.
- A small head: this will make it easy for your child to move the toothbrush one tooth at a time around their mouth.
Electric and manual toothbrushes are equally good, as long as your child uses them properly to clean all the surfaces of all their teeth. Electric toothbrushes can be useful if your child has poor hand control. If you’re deciding between a manual and an electric toothbrush, it’s OK to let your child choose.
Keeping the toothbrush clean
You can remind your child to rinse the toothbrush with tap water after cleaning teeth and gums. And your child should store the toothbrush upright in an open container to allow it to air-dry.
It’s a good idea to change your child’s toothbrush every 3-4 months or when the bristles get worn or frayed.
Fluoride and dental care
Fluoride is a mineral that keeps teeth strong and prevents tooth decay. Fluoride is safe and works best when your child gets it in very small amounts throughout the day in:
- toothpaste – at this age, your child can use regular adult fluoride toothpaste
- tap water – most tap water in Australia has added fluoride
- foods containing fluoride, like fruit or vegetables.
For children who are at high risk of developing tooth decay, dentists might also prescribe gels and pastes with extra fluoride.
Teeth-cleaning alone isn’t a guarantee against tooth decay. Diet is also important. Avoid giving your child sugary foods and sugary drinks like fruit juice, soft drink and flavoured milk.
Your dentist might recommend dental sealants for your child.
Dental sealants are thin, plastic coatings that stick to the chewing surfaces of teeth. These sealants stop plaque build-up in the grooves of teeth and help stop tooth decay. Applying the sealants is usually simple and quick, with very little discomfort for your child.
Sealants don’t stay on your child’s teeth forever. Your dentist will check them regularly. They might sometimes need fixing or replacing.
If you’re interested in dental sealants for your child, speak to your dentist.
Visiting the dentist
It’s important for your child to have regular dental check-ups. Your dentist will tell you how often your child needs a check-up. Dentists usually recommend every 6-12 months.
Your child might also see other oral health professionals, depending on your child’s needs. These include dental therapists, dental hygienists, oral health therapists or specialist dentists like paediatric dentists or orthodontists.
Dental health care in Australia
Dental care for children is often free or low-cost in the public dental system, up to a certain age. For details of public dental providers, see your state or territory health department website.
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.
If you’re eligible, the Australian Government’s Child Dental Benefits Schedule covers basic dental services for children aged 0-17 years at most private and public dental clinics.