Oral health

When your child is around six months old, their baby teeth will start coming through the gum. As well as being important for a nice smile and helping with the vital tasks of chewing and speaking, baby teeth help to guide permanent adult teeth into place.  So, from the day they make their first appearance, it pays to take good care of your baby’s precious pearly-whites.

Top 10 Tips

1. As soon as your child’s first teeth appear, it’s time to start brushing. Put a tiny smear of regular-strength fluoride toothpaste on the very end bristles of a small, soft toothbrush. Your baby may chew on the toothbrush but it is important that you also brush your child’s teeth for them.

2. Brush your child’s teeth and gums twice a day. One of these brushings should be last thing at night before bed.

3. Children aren’t able to clean their teeth properly until they’re around eight years-old. It is important to assist your child with brushing their teeth until this age. Don’t rinse your child’s mouth with water after brushing; instead teach them to spit out the left-over toothpaste. By not rinsing toothpaste from the mouth after brushing, fluoride remains in contact with the teeth for longer and can more effectively prevent tooth decay. Toothpaste should not be eaten and children should be supervised when they use toothpaste.

4. Bacteria can be transferred to your baby’s mouth from others so when your baby is eating solids it’s important to use a separate spoon when tasting their food, especially if you have a lot of fillings or gum disease. Don’t let family members share toothbrushes, spoons, bottles or dummies and avoid putting your baby’s dummy in your mouth to ‘clean’ it.

5. Sometime around your child’s first birthday they will be ready for their first dental visit. In New Zealand, basic oral health care is free from birth up until 17 but you’ll need to enrol. The Community Oral Health Service encourages enrolment at birth. Phone 0800 TALK TEETH (0800 825 583) to do this.

6. Opting for savoury foods over sweet foods is always a good idea.

7. It is best to choose either water or milk and keep other drinks for treats. If your child is having fruit juice, dilute it and give it to them at meal times, ideally through a straw. Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle as the milk, formula or juice can harm their teeth as they sleep.

8. If your child is having a sweet treat, it’s best to give it to them at the end of a meal and ensure they eat it in one sitting. When it comes to tooth decay, it’s the number of times teeth are exposed to sweet, sticky and acid foods that matters, rather than the amount of sugar eaten.

9. Give your children ‘eating breaks’ to allow their saliva to neutralise plaque acids. Ideally, they should have three meals and two snacks a day, preferably with at least two hours in between each.

10. Don’t forget flossing. You should start as soon as two teeth are touching. This usually happens when the first back teeth appear. Ideally, teeth should be flossed daily, but even flossing twice a week helps.

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