Cleaning teeth

Brushing teeth is important for keeping teeth clean, as well as preventing tooth decay 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 he might just forget to do it.

Try to look out for signs that your child isn’t brushing her teeth – for example, her toothbrush hasn’t been used, her teeth might not look clean, or you might notice gum disease or bad breath.

You can encourage your child to brush his teeth regularly. Talking about why it’s good to brush your teeth could be a good place to start – for example, regular brushing helps keep teeth clean, and prevents tooth decay and bad breath.

In case your child needs reminding, here are the basic steps for brushing teeth:

  1. Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  2. Aim the toothbrush at a 45˚ angle towards the gum line.
  3. Use a gentle circular motion.
  4. Repeat on the inside surfaces of the teeth.
  5. Use a light backwards and forwards motion on the chewing surfaces.
  6. 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.

Ask your dentist about whether and how often your child needs to floss. If your child needs to floss, your dentist can show you and your child the correct flossing technique.

Choosing a toothbrush

There are so many toothbrushes to choose from that it can get pretty confusing. 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 her teeth.
  • A small head: this will make it easy for your child to move the toothbrush around his mouth.

Electric toothbrushes are just as good as non-electric toothbrushes, and are particularly useful if your child has poor hand control.

No matter what toothbrush your child uses, it’s a good idea to change it when the bristles start to look worn out and shaggy.

Toothpaste and fluoride

Fluoride is a mineral that helps build strong teeth and bones and prevent tooth decay. If your child has too much fluoride, it can cause fluorosis, which is a build-up of white marks on the teeth. Although this affects the way teeth look, it doesn’t usually affect health.

Most tap water in Australia has added fluoride. Fluoride is safe and helps teeth grow strong. It 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.

If your child has a high risk of developing tooth decay, your dentist might prescribe a fluoride mouth rinse.

Cleaning teeth isn’t a guarantee against tooth decay. Diet is also important to your child’s oral health – food and drinks that are low in sugar are best.

Dental sealants

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 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

Everyone has different dental needs and risks. These different needs will affect how often your child needs to visit the dentist. This is something you can talk about with your dentist.

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 therapistsdental 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.

If you’re eligible, the Australian Government’s Child Dental Benefit Schedule covers basic dental services for children aged 2-17 years.