Nurturing your child’s teeth during each stage of development is an important factor in their overall health.
Did you know that dental caries (tooth decay) is the most common chronic disease in children? It is about five times more common than asthma1. In New South Wales, 40% of children aged 5-6 years have evidence of dental decay, and yet the disease is mostly preventable2.
Preventative care and early intervention are the focus of our children’s dental services.
At your child’s dental appointments we assist you in keeping their teeth and gums clean and healthy. This includes providing professional cleaning, education on oral hygiene and diet, and evaluation of their dental condition to identify if they require any preventative or supplementary treatments. We discuss age-related topics and can answer any of your questions or concerns regarding their oral care and development.
We also continually assess their dental development as they grow, to ensure the primary and secondary teeth develop correctly, and so we are able to provide early intervention if any problems arise.
Children should have an initial dental check-up by their first birthday.
Children’s dental appointments will not only include an exam and assessment, but our team will go out of our way to ensure they have a positive experience in our practice, and they will leave with a goody bag for their achievement. We provide a children’s play area, we conduct tours of the practice so they are comfortable in the setting, we give ‘rides’ on the dental chair, we have TV’s in the waiting room and surgeries with kids’ channels, and we allow them to interact with safe dental equipment.
We also bulk bill the Medicare Child Dental Benefits Schedule. Eligible children receive up to $1000 of dental treatment over each two-year period for a range of services including examinations, cleanings and fillings.
During the appointment
Early childhood examinations will assess:
- Current dental condition (including if there is any tooth decay).
- Hereditary problems, for example malformed or missing teeth.
- The need for preventative supplements, such as fluoride or fissure sealants.
- Para-functional habits such as finger sucking and tongue thrusting.
- The developing growth relation between the jaws, the tooth size to jaw size relationship, and the need for any orthopaedic appliance therapy.
- The correct growth and development of the dentition and if there is any need for appliances to correct dental malalignment (such as braces).
We will also discuss, and provide advice on, topics including:
- Hygiene techniques and instructions (e.g. brushing).
- The risk of dental decay and how to prevent it.
- Age-related information, such as teething and para-functional habits (e.g. thumb sucking).
- Brushing techniques.
- Bite (how your child’s teeth come together).
- Nutritional advice.
We will assist you in teaching your child how to take care of their smile.
Early education on the importance of looking after their teeth can help children develop good oral hygiene habits for life.
Behaviours learnt while children are young (such as brushing, flossing, and the importance of diet and routine dental visits) can help ensure they have healthy teeth into adulthood and beyond. It can also mean less dental treatment and less dental cost over their lifetime.
Beginning routine check-ups when children are young allows us to monitor the development of their dentition as they grow. Diagnosing and rectifying any developmental or hereditary problems early is an important aspect of children’s dentistry.
This can include problems such as tongue ties, cross bites, and crowded or missing teeth.
Early intervention can result in less invasive procedures when your child is older.
Dental misalignment (for example crowded teeth) goes beyond cosmetics. Misaligned teeth can be harder to clean, make it difficult to chew some foods, cause abnormal wear on tooth surfaces, affect speech development, and cause muscle tension and pain.
Some of our services include laser surgery, orthodontics (braces), and orthopaedics (functional appliances).
Preventing dental anxiety
Beginning dental visits at a young age provides early exposure to the dental environment, which can help prevent dental phobias later in life.
We actively encourage the early involvement of children in the dental environment, and we are happy for them to accompany parents or siblings to their appointments as well. Our friendly team are also happy to mind young children for parents during their own appointments.
We go out of our way to make the dental visit experience as positive for your child as possible. For toddlers onwards dental visits include interactive experiences and building trust, such as practising opening their mouths wide and helping us count their teeth (after they guess how many they have). Children are praised throughout the appointments for their listening skills and ability to follow instructions.
For parents, you should refrain from using dental visits as a threat or deterrent for bad behaviour (such as not brushing teeth) whenever possible.
The importance of baby (primary) teeth
It’s a misconception that baby (primary) teeth aren’t as important as adult (permanent) teeth. Even though they eventually fall out, they are still extremely important for your child’s developing oral health and overall wellbeing.
Baby teeth are important because they:
- Play a vital role in the proper alignment and spacing of adult (permanent) teeth. Baby teeth hold space in the jawbone to guide adult teeth into the correct position, and on a straight angle, when they erupt. When a baby tooth is lost too early, adult teeth can drift into the empty space when they erupt which can cause crowding and/or crooked teeth.
- Assist in stimulating the normal development of the facial structure (bones and muscles).
- Assist in the development of correct speech and pronunciation.
- Ensure your child receives adequate nutrition (by being able to chew a variety of foods effectively).
- Ensure your child is digesting food properly (by being able to break food down into small enough pieces).
Tooth decay is the main reason that children lose their baby teeth too early.
Caring for your child’s teeth
Dental health will be an ongoing process throughout your child’s life, so you should begin the practices of brushing and flossing when they are young so they come to think of it as a normal habit each day.
- Use a damp washcloth to clean your baby’s gums daily by gently rubbing them.
- As soon as the first tooth erupts, begin brushing them daily. Use a soft, child-sized toothbrush with only water. This can be easier if your baby is laying on your lap or on a bed. Gently brush each tooth and massage the gum using a soft, circular motion.
- Do not use toothpaste.
- Visit a dentist before your child’s first birthday.
- Brush your toddler’s teeth twice daily with a soft, child-size toothbrush. This can be easier if your baby is laying on your lap or on a bed. Gently brush each tooth and massage the gum using a soft, circular motion. Parents should be doing the brushing (not the child).
- From around 18 months of age you can begin brushing with a child-strength fluoride toothpaste. Only use a pea-sized amount on the toothbrush. Ensure the toothpaste is specifically for children. Young children should not use adult-strength fluoride toothpaste as they tend to swallow rather than spit out excess toothpaste.
- Once teeth start erupting adjacent to each other, floss the teeth that touch each other daily.
- Try and make brushing a fun and positive experience. For example, you can play a song, use an appropriate smartphone app, or use a timer to remember to brush for the recommended two minutes. You can also find a toothbrush or toothpaste with a beloved TV character on it.
Children (less than 6 years):
- Continue brushing the teeth twice daily with a soft, child-sized toothbrush. Parents should be doing the brushing (not the child) to ensure the process is effective.
- Continue to use child-strength fluoride toothpaste, in a pea-sized amount.
- After brushing, have your child spit out the excess toothpaste (not swallow it), but don’t rinse their mouth with water. This keeps the teeth protected longer.
- Parents should floss their child’s teeth daily.
Children (over 6 years):
- Continue assisting your child with brushing and flossing their teeth until they are around 8 or 9 years of age. Even then it’s a good idea to continue supervising them when they brush and floss.
- Use adult-strength fluoride toothpaste.
- After brushing, have your child spit out the excess toothpaste (not swallow it), but don’t rinse their mouth with water. This keeps the teeth protected longer.
Tooth decay in children
The enamel of baby (primary) teeth is less densely mineralised than the enamel of adult (permanent) teeth, making them more susceptible to tooth decay. Tooth decay is the main reason that children lose their baby teeth too early, and it is largely preventable by good oral hygiene practices and a healthy diet. The development of tooth decay in the baby teeth can also further increase your child’s risk of developing tooth decay in their adult teeth3.
Brushing and flossing your child’s teeth daily is important to prevent them from getting tooth decay. However, managing their diet, especially their snacking habits and how much sugar they consume, is also an important factor in helping to prevent tooth decay.
Tooth decay occurs when foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates (which break down to starch and then sugar) are consumed. Bacteria in your mouth feed on these sugars and in turn produce acids that attack the outer layer of the teeth (the enamel). This does not only mean processed foods like lollies and soft drinks, it also includes foods high in natural sugars and starches. This is known as an ‘acid attack’ and results in the demineralisation of your enamel and can cause tooth decay.
Saliva provides a natural defence mechanism to help prevent tooth decay, by neutralising the acids produced by bacteria through a process called remineralisation. Saliva also helps to wash away some of the sugar and food particles in your mouth. This ‘attack and recovery’ process occurs every time you eat and drink. However, if you frequently consume sugary food and drinks, saliva may not have time to remineralise the teeth properly after each ‘attack’.
So, tooth decay is caused by how frequently your child snacks, as well as how long their teeth are exposed to sugars.
We are not saying to never give your child sweet treats, however you should limit their consumption of sugary foods and foods high in refined carbohydrates.
If you do give your child a sugary snack, it’s best to do so as ‘dessert’ immediately following a meal. This is because there is usually increased amounts of saliva in the mouth around mealtime, making it easier to wash food away from the teeth. You should also offer your child water to drink afterwards to further help wash sugary particles away from the teeth.
The frequency of snacking is also far more important than the quantity consumed. If you are going to give your child sugary foods or drink, your child is better off consuming them in one sitting, rather than snacking on them continuously throughout the day. Time between meals allows saliva to wash away food particles that bacteria would otherwise feast on, and remineralise the teeth. Frequent snacking on the other hand, provides a constant sugary food source to feed the bacteria. This can lead to plaque, which can cause tooth decay.
Some of the worst sugary snack choices are hard lollies such as lollipops and sticky substances such as caramels, as they are sucked over a long period time or stick to the teeth easily. This causes sugar to linger on the teeth longer, rather than being washed away.
Be on the lookout for tooth decay
You can easily check your child’s teeth for tooth decay by lifting their top and bottom lips so you can see their teeth. Look for white patches, which are the warning signs for tooth decay, and can usually be reversed if caught early. Grey, brown or black spots indicate more serious decay. If you notice any potential signs of tooth decay, or you are otherwise concerned, contact your dentist who can provide a thorough examination.
Preventing tooth decay in babies
Even babies can develop tooth decay, especially if bottles and dummies are used incorrectly.
You should never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing anything but cool, boiled water. This includes milk, formula, fruit juice, cordial or soft drink. Even natural sugars found in milk and formula can be harmful when they cling to a child’s teeth for a long period of time. The flow of saliva also decreases during sleep which otherwise usually helps to wash away sugars.
The teats of bottles and dummies should never be dipped into sweet syrups such as honey.
Children should also be encouraged to use cups instead of bottles by the time they approach 12 months of age. When a child sips from a cup, the liquid moves past the teeth quickly and does less harm. In comparison, when a bottle is sucked slowly the liquid tends to linger in the mouth for longer.
Healthy snacking for children
To develop strong teeth (and for their overall growth and wellbeing) your child requires a healthy, balanced diet containing minimal high-sugar and high-refined carbohydrate foods.
We aren’t saying to never give your child sweet treats, however you should keep their consumption of sugary foods to a minimum, and choose healthier snack options the majority of the time. This will also help your child get used to eating a healthy diet, which can positively affect their food choices as they grow older.
Also, reduce the frequency that sugary foods are consumed in, and try and ensure they are eaten within an appropriate timeframe. Remember, it’s better for sugary foods to be consumed promptly in the one sitting rather than multiple times per day, or over a prolonged period of time.
Healthy snack tips:
- Snacks are meals in between main meals, so they should be light and low in sugar.
- Fresh is best. Dried or packaged foods are generally higher in sugar than their fresh alternatives (for example grapes versus sultanas).
- When choosing snacks, be aware of how much sugar is in them. Always read the label: if sugar is listed in the top three ingredients it’s usually not a good choice.
- Limit fruit to two servings per day. Fruit is healthy, however it still contains natural sugars.
- Avoid snack foods that linger on the teeth, for example sticky or chewy foods, which make it difficult for saliva to wash the sugars away.
- Avoid snack foods that are consumed over a long period of time, such as lollipops and hard candies, causing the teeth to be bathed in sugars.
- Give your child water with every meal to help wash away lingering food and keep the mouth hydrated.
Healthy snack examples:
- Plain water is the best choice. If you start your child drinking water early, and limit the options of alternative sugary drinks, they are more likely to enjoy drinking it.
- Low-sugar yoghurt (read the label as many can be filled with sugar! Generally Greek or natural yoghurt is a good choice).
- Crunchy fruits and vegetables (such as apples and carrots), as their texture helps to clean teeth as they are eaten.
- Vegetables cut into sticks (such as carrots, celery, cucumber, capsicum and green beans) on their own, or with dip. However, read the packaging on the dip if you aren’t going to make it at home. Vegetable or hummus-based dips are generally a good choice.
- Wholegrain crackers, or rice/corn ‘cakes/thins’ with dip or a spread such as natural nut butter.
- Hard cheeses (such as cheddar).
- Lean meats (can be rolled up with cheese and cucumber).
- Plain popcorn (when they are old enough).
- Nuts and seeds (when they are old enough).
- Public Health Reports: Oral Health – The Silent Epidemic (2010)
- NSW Health: Early Childhood Oral Health Guidelines for Child Health Professionals, 3rd Edition (2014)
- Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry: Do the more caries in early primary dentition indicate the more caries in permanent dentition? Results of a 5-years follow-up study in rural-district (2012)
This information is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It should not be taken as personal, professional advice; nor treatment or diagnosis. Always seek professional advice from an appropriately qualified medical practitioner.