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 3 years old. Children get teeth at different times.
The 32 adult teeth replace the baby teeth between the ages of 6 and 20 years.
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, unless your dentist recommends a higher fluoride strength.
Your child might want to start helping to clean their own teeth. Letting your child hold the toothbrush with you will help your child feel they’re part of the action. But your child needs your help and supervision with cleaning teeth until they’re about 8 years old.
Your child should regularly floss any teeth that touch each other.
Also encourage your child to rinse their mouth with water after lunch and snacks. This helps to wash away any leftover food.
Just keeping teeth clean 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.
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 your child feels secure. Brushing teeth 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 their 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.
- 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 non-slip, cushioned handles. 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.
You should replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months, or when the bristles get worn or frayed.
Cleaning and caring for children’s teeth early on sets up good dental habits for life.
Toothpaste and fluoride
You can start using a low-fluoride toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush from 18 months of age.
Fluoride is a safe mineral that keeps teeth strong and prevents tooth decay.
Most tap water in Australia has very low amounts of added fluoride.
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.
Visiting the dentist
At this age, children should visit the dentist regularly. Talk to your dentist about how often your child needs a check-up. Dentists usually recommend every 6-12 months.
Regular dental check-ups give your child the chance get to know the dentist. They also give 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 also see other oral health professionals, depending on your child’s needs. These include dental therapists, dental hygienists and oral health therapists or specialist dentists like paediatric dentists.
Dental health care in Australia
Dental care for children is often free in the public dental system, up to a certain age. For details of public dental providers, see your state or territory’s 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 2-17 years at most private and public dental clinics.