The 32 adult teeth replace the baby teeth between the ages of 6 and 20 years. By the age of 12, most children have all their adult teeth except for their third molars (wisdom teeth).
Brushing teeth is important for keeping teeth clean, as well as preventing tooth decay, bad breath and gum disease. But teenagers don’t always brush their teeth, and there could be many reasons for this. For example, your child might not understand the importance of brushing teeth, or your child might just forget to do it.
Try to look out for signs that your child isn’t brushing their teeth – for example, their toothbrush hasn’t been used, their teeth might not look clean, or you might notice gum disease or bad breath.
You can encourage your child to brush their teeth twice a day. Talking about why it’s good to brush your teeth could be a good place to start.
In case your child needs reminding, here are the basic steps for brushing teeth:
- Use a pea-sized amount of adult fluoride toothpaste.
- Aim the toothbrush at a 45° angle towards the gum line.
- Start with the top teeth first. Using a gentle circular motion, brush the outside surface of the teeth and gums, 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 above step.
- Use a light backwards and forwards motion on the chewing surfaces.
- 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.
If your child uses an electric toothbrush, your child should avoid moving the brush in circles. It’s best to keep their hand still and guide the brush across the teeth and gums.
As well as brushing, your child should regularly floss any teeth that touch each other.
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 let your child reach all their teeth.
- A small head: this will make it easy for your child to move the toothbrush around their mouth.
Electric toothbrushes are just as good as non-electric toothbrushes, and they’re particularly useful if your child has poor hand control.
No matter what toothbrush your child uses, it’s a good idea to change it every 3-4 months or when the bristles start to look worn out and shaggy.
Toothpaste and fluoride
Your child should use regular adult fluoride toothpaste.
Fluoride is a safe mineral that helps keep teeth strong and prevent tooth decay.
Most tap water in Australia has 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 fluoride toothpaste. For teenagers who are at high risk of developing tooth decay, dentists might prescribe gels and pastes with extra fluoride.
Cleaning teeth 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. Smoking, alcohol and other drugs can also affect oral health. There’s no safe level of alcohol, smoking and drug use for teenagers.
Your dentist might recommend dental sealants for your child.
Dental sealants are thin, plastic coatings that bond to the chewing surfaces of teeth, where most cavities in children are found. These sealants prevent plaque build-up in the grooves of the teeth and help prevent tooth decay. Applying the sealants is usually simple and quick, with no pain and minimal 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 reapplying.
You can speak to your dentist about whether dental sealants are a good option for your child.
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’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.