Oral hygiene: The tooth of the matter
Following a healthy oral hygiene routine with your children from an early age can instill good habits that will last a lifetime. Carmel Doyle reports
Keeping your family's teeth healthy LOOKING after your children's teeth is vital to ensure they develop a healthy dental regime that will last them into adulthood. Even though your child does not have teeth until they are about six months of age, dentists recommend that you clean their gums with a soft cloth.
And as soon as your baby's first primary or 'milk' teeth appear, Dr Abigail Moore, a paediatric dentist who is based at the Burlington Dental Clinic and The Hermitage Dental Clinic, says you should start brushing them.
With the first teeth erupting between six and 12 months, her advice is to get your child used to a cleaning routine.
"Use a clean cloth or a soft toothbrush with tap water to clean the new teeth and gums."
Toothpaste is not recommended until your child is two years old, when they should use a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste, explains Moore.
After breakfast and last thing at night are the ideal cleaning times.
"It is good to have a tooth-brushing song or counting game to distract until all the teeth are sparkly clean."
Generally, she says kids under the age of six should be helped with brushing, which should last for two to three minutes.
"Children can be insistent they brush alone, but it is important that you do a good brush first, then let your child 'check' the teeth after. Your dentist or hygienist is the best person to teach a proper technique."
Moore says not all children need to start flossing early.
"If teeth are spaced there is no need to floss but if teeth are tight together (especially if your child has already had a cavity) it is advisable to clean between them."
Because younger children don't have the manual dexterity, she says an adult should help floss the tight-together teeth, ie the back two molars.
" The best time to floss is after the bedtime brush, that way floss will carry protective fluoride toothpaste between the teeth."
First trip to the dentist
Bringing your child for their first trip to the dentist by their first birthday is a good rule of thumb, says Moore, to help introduce good oral health and hygiene habits.
"In some circumstances, early diagnosis may be made of oral disease, developmental tooth defects or perhaps missing or unusual shaped teeth. All children should attend their dentist one to two times per year for regular check-ups; this way if anything does develop it is caught early so is easier to manage," she affirms.
Describing dental decay as a disease caused by specific bacteria or germs that live in the mouth, Moore says these bacteria thrive in a sugary mouth, producing acid that breaks down a susceptible tooth surface, causing cavities.
" Damage starts as white or brown spots and gradually the surface enamel is broken down and a hole forms. Once a cavity is formed the spread is much more rapid as the under layer is softer and cleaning becomes more difficult."
Many cavities start in the biting surfaces of the back teeth, she says, because these surfaces are uneven with fissures, resulting in food impaction and plaque build-up.
In Irish children, with 80pc of decay occurring on the biting surfaces of the teeth, this could be prevented by using sealants, says Moore.
"A fissure sealant is a white varnish layer, which is applied to the biting surface of the back teeth. It flows into the fissures, creating a shallower, smooth surface."
While fissure sealants may be recommended in primary teeth, they are more commonly used on the first permanent molars that erupt around the age of six or seven, she adds.
Mixed dentition stage
The transition between child and adult dentition, which occurs between seven and 12 years of age, is called the mixed dentition stage.
During this stage, when children possess a mixture of baby and adult teeth, Moore says it's still essential for them to brush their teeth thoroughly, even when their primary teeth might be wobbly.
"If teeth are coming up bunched together or crooked, careful brushing and flossing will be needed. Remember, the permanent teeth should last a lifetime so it is vital they get extra attention with the brush."
Finally, she says the biggest concerns that parents have about their children's teeth include whether they are brushing them properly and if they will need to get braces.
For young teens, Moore says good brushing habits will stand to them at this age.
" If children are wearing braces we may recommend a fluoride mouthwash at a separate time to brushing and regular visits to a dental hygienist."
Mother & Babies