As soon as an infant’s teeth come through, they may be brushed with a soft toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste. It is good to get the baby used to tooth-brushing, but parents should not be concerned if the baby resists at first. The important thing is to establish childhood tooth-care as a new part of the baby’s routine. It can help if parents brush their own teeth in front of their child.
Babies need only a smear of toothpaste and once a toddler reaches three years old, this should be increased to a pea-sized amount until the age of six. As soon as the baby is used to tooth-brushing, the teeth should be brushed thoroughly across all surfaces. This should be done twice daily; just before bedtime and at another time that won’t disrupt the child’s routine.
Some children dislike brushing their teeth, but parents should persevere. Tips include turning tooth-brushing into a game or encouraging children to brush their own teeth at the same time as a parent; parents should then finish off brushing the child’s teeth. A good position to brush a baby’s teeth is to sit them on the lap with the child facing away. For older children, stand behind them and tilt their head backwards.
As with brushing adult teeth, small, circular brushing motions work well for brushing a child’s teeth. The child should be encouraged to spit afterwards but rinsing is not ideal as it washes away the fluoride. Parents should take responsibility for brushing children’s teeth until they are competent enough to do a thorough job themselves; this is usually at about the age of seven.
Regular dental examinations should be given to children, ideally at the same time as parents so that they can get used to the process. NHS dental treatment is free for children so that cost is no barrier to caring for young teeth. If necessary, children are also eligible for free orthodontic treatment. Dentists will usually refer patients to a specialist such as registered orthodontist Jonathan Alexander-Abt for treatment. Orthodontic treatment typically begins after the appearance of most of the adult teeth, usually at around 12 years of age.
Looking after a child’s teeth should also include minimising sugar intake as this causes tooth decay. It is important to remember that it is not just the amount of sugar in food or drink that should be considered, but the length of time the teeth are exposed to sugar. Prolonged drinking from a bottle or sucking on lollipops are prime examples of things to avoid when caring for children’s teeth.