When you have a little human to look after there are so many things to think about – sleeping, feeding, changing nappies – but something that you probably didn’t think about before having a baby was brushing their teeth. They don’t even have any so surely you don’t need to do anything yet, right? Wrong!
Caring for and brushing your baby’s teeth (or rather gums) from birth and getting them into good habits from early on, is super important.
Why is brushing important for children?
Teeth are fundamental to our little ones’ growth as they play a role in developing speech and are what help guide their permanent adult teeth into position. Caring for and brushing baby teeth when they are infants plays a huge role in the health and development of their teeth that will see them through adulthood.
At what age should you start brushing your child’s teeth?
As soon as that first tooth appears – if not sooner! You can start getting into the habit of cleaning your baby’s gums daily with a soft damp cloth or a silicone finger toothbrush. Then as the teeth start to erupt start to clean the teeth and gums twice a day.
When do babies’ teeth start to appear?
Most babies will start to show signs of teething around 4-7 months, however, some might not pop that first tooth until after their first birthday. Don’t compare your baby’s teeth to other babies, they all do this in their own time and there is a wide range of what is considered “normal”.
Your baby will be teething on and off until around 2 years old when their second molars erupt. Although some babies don’t get these final molars until closer to 2.5 years of age.
Choosing the right toothbrush and toothpaste
Once your baby has teeth it’s a good idea to choose a soft children’s toothbrush according to their age and remember to replace it regularly (every 3 months is the recommendation).
Do not use toothpaste in children under 18 months of age unless directed by your dental practitioner. At 18 months of age, you may introduce fluoridated children’s toothpaste. Low-dose fluoride toothpaste is available for use in children between 18 months to 6 years of age – ensure you select the correct toothpaste according to their age. You should use a small pea-sized amount of toothpaste to avoid them swallowing too much.
Once your child turns three you can introduce an electric toothbrush which can help make brushing easier – and more fun!
How to brush your child’s teeth
You will need to brush your child’s teeth until they are around 2-3 years old, and even then you will need to closely supervise their brushing.
Babies and infants:
Holding your baby in whatever position is most comfortable, wait until they are in a calm and relaxed state, smile and positively talk through what you are doing as you use the damp cloth or baby toothbrush to clean their gums and teeth. It might take a few days to get them used to this so start slow and don’t push it if they get upset. Try a little bit each day and eventually they will get used to it.
- Brush the teeth and along the gum line to make sure each tooth gets a thorough clean inside and out.
- Aim for around 2 minutes
- Brush gently in small circular motions
- Once you’ve finished, get them to spit out the toothpaste (not to rinse with water you want to keep a small amount of toothpaste on their teeth for protection.
Toddlers want to do everything themselves, so around the age of 2 onwards you can start teaching them to have a go themselves. But you will need to give their teeth a once over yourself afterwards.
Preschoolers and beyond:
As your child grows you will need to continue monitoring and helping them with their tooth brushing – a 5-year-old will want to brush their own teeth but it’s important you keep a close eye on them. By around the age of 8, they should be able to do it independently.
You can also start introducing dental floss to your child to encourage further cleaning between the teeth.
Tips for brushing children’s teeth
Toothbrushing is one of those things that many children don’t enjoy but with time and perseverance, they will learn it’s something we need to do every day to stay healthy.
- Make it fun – always keep it a positive time, sing songs, make up a toothbrushing dance, let them pick fun toothbrushes or find apps or videos that are aimed at helping children brush their teeth.
- Monkey see monkey do! Mimic good oral hygiene practices yourself and they will want to copy you.
- Read books about brushing teeth and going to the dentist.
- If they are demanding to hold the toothbrush themselves it might be helpful to get a second toothbrush so they can hold one while you brush their teeth.
- If they don’t like one toothpaste, try another. There are loads of different options and flavours these days.
- Get them a fun toothbrushing time that teaches them how long to brush for
- A reward system might work if you are noticing some resistance; give them a sticker every time they brush for the whole 2 minutes.
What happens if children don’t brush their teeth?
Poor oral health in childhood is the strongest predictor of further dental disease in adulthood. If your little one’s teeth aren’t cleaned well regularly, things such as tooth decay, discolouration, cavities and bad breath can develop and can do so very rapidly.
You can easily check the state of your child’s teeth by lifting their top and bottom lips. Things to look out for include:
- White patches that are close to the gum and don’t come off after brushing are the early warning signs for decay and can be reversed.
- Grey, brown or black spots anywhere on the teeth is not a good sign. This may indicate more advanced decay, so book an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
- If your child is waking regularly in the night complaining of a sore tooth or has bad breath, these can all be signs of decay and you should book an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
When should my child visit the dentist?
If your child is showing any of the signs mentioned above or anything else out of the ordinary you should book in with a dentist straight away. However, as a rule of thumb, your baby should visit the dentist by around the time they reach 12 months old. The earlier your child visits the dentist the better. Prevention is always better than cure!
As well as regularly brushing your child’s teeth you should always make sure you are providing them with a healthy diet (limiting sugary foods and beverages) and setting them up with positive associations and healthy hygiene habits from a young age.