Looking after your little one’s teeth can feel like a bit of a chore, especially if they act like you’re torturing them every time you pick up their toothbrush.
According to a research, tooth extractions in children aged one to four have risen by 25% in the past decade, with over 9,000 children needing to have a tooth removed in the past year.
Fortunately, though, many problems with toddlers’ teeth can be prevented with good dental hygiene.
Here are some of the things we’re getting wrong when it comes to looking after our children’s teeth – and how to put them right.
Not visiting the dentist
There may seem little point taking your child to the dentist when they only have a couple of teeth, but it’s important to get them used to dental check-ups when
they’re still small.
Only 20% of children aged one to two have been to the dentist in the past year, even though NHS dental care is free for kids.
Children should have regular dental check-ups from the time their first tooth comes through: this will pick up any problems, and also familiarize your child with the
sights, sounds, smells and sensations, so they’re less likely to be afraid of the dentist as they get older.
Giving them high-sugar foods
Did you know that many shop-bought baby and toddler foods could be causing dental enamel erosion?
Lots of ready-made meals are sweetened with fruit purees to make them appeal to children, but the high fruit content is not always clearly labelled. The fruit can make the meals very acidic, and lead to enamel erosion.
Get used to checking the ingredients for sugars: these are generally anything ending in ‘ose,’ such as fructose, glucose and sucrose. The higher up the list of ingredients these are, the more sugary the food is.
Rinsing after brushing
If you encourage your child to rinse their mouth out after brushing their teeth, stop right there!
Rinsing washes away the fluoride in toothpaste that helps protect your child’s teeth from decay.
Instead, encourage them to spit after brushing, but don’t let them swill their mouth out: this will ensure the protective fluoride stays on their teeth for longer and
can reduce the risk of dental erosion.
Giving fruit juice as a drink
Most people think fruit juice is a healthy drink for babies and toddlers.
Actually, it’s full of sugar and is very acidic, so although it’s a good way to give your child one of their five-a-day, it can cause enamel erosion if they have it too often.
If you want to give your child fruit juice to drink, make sure you dilute it with water and only offer it at mealtimes: between meals, milk or water are better options for their teeth.
Brushing straight after meals
You might think that brushing your child’s teeth straight after they’ve eaten will help to protect them from decay, but actually, you could be making things worse.
That’s because whenever we eat or drink something acidic, our tooth enamel becomes temporarily softer, so brushing straightaway risks damaging the teeth by
scrubbing away the protective surface.
It’s best to wait an hour after eating before brushing your child’s teeth, so their tooth enamel has time to toughen up again.
Giving smooth purees
Smooth, runny purees are great for getting a weaning baby used to the taste of proper food, but it’s important to introduce soft lumps around the eight- to nine-month mark.
This helps to develop the jaw muscles that your baby needs not just to chew, but also to learn to talk.
Bear in mind that spouted pouches of baby food are generally very smooth, so children simply swallow rather than exercising their jaw muscles.
Snacking on fruit
OK, so fruit is a healthier snack than biscuits or crisps, but remember the sugars in fruit could still be damaging your child’s teeth.
Dried fruits like raisins or apricots are particularly sugary, and also cling to the teeth, making decay more likely.
Cheese and vegetables are smarter snacks as far as your child’s teeth are concerned, so offer these in portion-controlled sizes as alternatives to fruit, and don’t give
them dried fruit too often.
Being complacent with milk teeth
It’s easy to forget to brush our children’s teeth from time to time, or to give them too many sugary snacks, working on the basis that we can try harder when they get their adult teeth.
But dentists say it’s important to get into good habits with your child’s milk teeth, so they can continue them when their permanent teeth come through.