Looking after baby and toddler teeth

The Early Start Nutrition team met dentist Dr Saul and asked him for information top tips around looking after baby and toddler teeth. Good oral health has lots of  benefits for children from helping them to bite and chew to speech and language development.

Children’s first teeth, often known as milk teeth, usually appear around the age of six months. Milk teeth may however emerge through the gums earlier or later. For example, there are occasions where teeth maybe present at birth. Children usually have around 20 milk teeth by the age of three. Some children will have milk teeth until they are 11 or 12 years old. It’s so important to look after baby and toddler teeth as they play a number of important roles:

  • They keep space for adult teeth and help to guide the adult teeth
  • They help children to bite and chew foods
  • They support children’s speech and language development
  • Help children feel confident when they smile.

We’ve summarised some of the top tips from Dr Saul Konviser below:

Advice on Visiting the Dentist for Baby and Toddler

  • It’s important for parents to take their baby to visit the dentist as soon their first tooth comes through. All children should visit the dentist by their 1st Birthday (#DCby1)
  • Parents can find their local dentist with this useful NHS Dentist finder
  • Plan regular visits to the dentist and have a routine check up every 6 months
  • A visit to the dentist is a great opportunity to discuss any dental health questions with the dentist, such as: how to look after children’s teeth and the importance of good nutrition
  • Parents are the best role models for their children and it’s important to be positive about visiting the dentist. Do not threaten to take children to the dentist at times of challenging behaviour as it creates a negative association
  • Many dentists will have stickers and balloons to give to children at the end of the visit. Parents may want to plan a trip to the park after seeing the dentist to make the whole day an enjoyable experience
  • Prioritise visits to the dentist and don’t put them off! We know poor dental health can impact on general health. Children who have toothache or who need treatment may have pain, infections and difficulties with eating, sleeping and socialising

Tips for Toothbrushing

  • Similar to us adults, children’s teeth should be brushed for around 2 minutes. For very young children with only a few teeth, it may not take a full 2 minutes to clean them. However, as more teeth appear it’s important that the time spent brushing them increases to around 2 minutes.
  • Use an age appropriate fluoride toothpaste (see advice below), and when children finish brushing their teeth they should spit and not rinse to ensure the fluoride is not washed off their teeth

Tooth friendly drinks and snacks

  • Children should be encouraged to drink water as this is a tooth friendly drink. There is no need to offer fizzy drinks and fruit juices
  • It’s important to reduce the frequency that children are offered sweets or juices so they are not part of the normal daily routine. The more often children have sugary sweets and drinks, the more often the teeth are under attack from sugars.Brush teeth twice a- day, before bed and at one other time in the day

Brushing teeth - oral health promotion

Top tips for encouraging children to brush their teeth:

  • Get children involved as much as possible so they feel they can take ownership when brushing their teeth and it will helped to make it feel less forced
  • By making brushing part of the daily routine, before going to nursery or school and before bedtime, it will become a normal habit 
  • Start charts and stickers are a great way to make brushing teeth an enjoyable part of the daily routine. You can download our start chart here or encourage children to create their own one
  • Make teeth brushing interactive – siblings can brush each others teeth or have a competition for the first one to brush their teeth, parents can get involved in this also
  • Younger children may enjoy brushing their teeth along to a song. Check out YouTube for inspo!

Which toothpaste should I choose for baby and toddler teeth?

It’s important that teeth are brushed last thing in the evening before bed and on one other occasion during the day using a fluoride toothpaste. It’s important to use a fluoride toothpaste, as this helps prevent and control tooth decay.  Families should always supervise tooth brushing. Lets take a look at the recommendations based on children’s ages (Source: NHS- Children’s Teeth)

Frequently Asked Questions – Baby and Toddler Teeth

Q: My toddler often will suck on the toothpaste instead of spitting it out, what should I do?

A: You can get your little one to practice brushing without toothpaste. Swallowing small amounts of toothpaste is safe but you should always encourage to spit out the paste and not rinse. Swallowing lots of toothpaste can effect the development of adult teeth – hence only using a small amount- treat toothpaste like a medicine. For 0-3 year olds use toothpaste with a lower concentration of fluoride (be guided by the age on the tube). Over 3’s can use a pea size amount of family toothpaste.

Q: My toddler just clamps her mouth shut when I attempt to brush her teeth making it impossible to brush. 

A: Try using a silicon finger toothbrush. Use a tiny grain of rice size amount of toothpaste. You could try brushing your teeth at the same time so your little one can copy you. Once your child finishes brushing their teeth, you can have a go too!

Q: Dentist told me I don’t have to register baby till 2 years old. Is this actually true?

A: It’s good for babies to have their first trip to the dentist when the first milk teeth erupt, so that’s any age between 4months to 1 year old. Call your dentist and ask to book an appointment. It will be super quick and it’s great acclimatisation for your baby.

Q: For a 9m old do we use toothpaste with or without fluoride and how many times should we brush teeth?

A: You want to be using a fluoride toothpaste for 0-3yrs old twice a day. Use a grain of rice amount of toothpaste and encourage to spit toothpaste at the end of brushing. A little goes a long way and it’s important to treat toothpaste like a medicine, so keep it out of reach of children.

Q: My lo is 14 months, he opens his mouth to brush twice a day but pushing the brush back out with his tongue constantly. I get it done but until he’s old enough to understand is there anyway to get access to cleaning the bottom ones easier?

A: Try sitting your little one on your knee and resting his head against your chest, that might it easier the clean the lower teeth.

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