I am no dentist… but my colleagues will tell you that recently, I have become somewhat obsessed with the state of children’s teeth! As a Paediatrician, we spend time prising little ones’ mouths open to check tonsils and get a glimpse of their teeth in doing so. And it sometimes isn’t pretty! Did you know that the commonest reason for children to be admitted to hospital is for dental decay? Often this is so teeth can be pulled out under a general anaesthetic and usually, this is for more than one rotten tooth.
Speaking with friends, and even sometimes colleagues, it’s apparent that we’re not all as clued up about our children’s teeth as we might be so here are some useful facts:
· You should start brushing your children’s teeth as soon as they poke their way through the gum (so usually in the first year of life); and should continue to be the person actually doing the brushing until they can write in neatly joined up handwriting (usually age 7-8). Before that time, they can practise but the small muscles in their hands are not strong enough to do a good job. You should brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time.
· Did you know that London water has one of the lowest naturally occurring levels of fluoride in the country…. and its children have some of the highest rates of tooth decay. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay. Use a fluoride toothpaste but encourage your child to spit, rather than swallow – too much fluoride can lead to brown marks on their teeth.
· You should take your child for dental check ups as soon as they have teeth to look at, and every 6 months after that. The first visit or two will be about familiarising themselves with the environment so if they come with you for your check up, or tag along with older siblings, they will soon become comfortable with opening their mouths wide. Dental check ups are free for all children on the NHS – ask around local parents to find one that is particularly child friendly.
· If you have a reluctant brusher, do not fret, there are plenty of things to help.
o I always sing a song (I am a dreadful singer but my children don’t mind!) – my go to song is a version of the Hokey Cokey – “you put your toothbrush in, you put your toothbrush out, in, out, in, out, you brush it all around….” You get the idea!
o There are a number of teeth brushing apps if you are willing to risk mixing your phone with a water filled environment…
o You can use a timer (egg timer or electronic) to time the two minutes and use rewards – think stickers, rather than sweets, to encourage your child when they get there!
o Give your child a toothbrush so they can practise on dolly, teddy, Grandad, the dog… whoever, actually maybe not the dog! This can often be a great distraction whilst you sneakily do theirs’!
With 3 children under 7 years old, my morning routine basically consists of lining them all up for tooth brushing, which is a chore and takes about 8 minutes once I’ve loaded the brushes/wiped toothpaste off school jumpers and caught the littlest before he’s run away! I just have to factor in that extra time but it’s well worth setting up good habits, which will (hopefully!) last a lifetime.