Children and Teeth

Your child’s baby teeth will start to appear

Your child’s baby teeth will start to appear, often with the central bottom teeth first, when they are anywhere between 4 months and 10 months. Like every developmental milestone, the point at which your baby gets their teeth is an individual thing, and you shouldn’t worry if their teeth appear earlier or later than other kids’ their age. If you have any concerns in this regard, do not hesitate to ask your dentist.

When your child is teething, it can be tough to make them comfortable. A combination of loving attention, chilled but not frozen teething rings or washcloths, and dummies often does the trick. Do not use honey or jam on the teething rings as this causes tooth decay.

Your baby’s first dentist visit

Generally speaking, it’s time for your baby to see a dentist for the first time when their first tooth becomes visible or when they reach 12 months of age – whichever comes first. While you might think it’s not necessary to book an appointment until your baby has a full set of teeth, which usually takes place by the age of 3, the earlier your child visits the dentist, the better. Usually, your child’s first visit to the dentist will involve gathering their full medical history and possible discussions about:

  • teething

  • brushing techniques

  • bite (how your children’s teeth come together)

  • habits such as thumb sucking

  • the risk of decay and ways to prevent it

  • prevention of traumatic injury to your child’s mouth

  • nutritional advice

Be positive about these visits when communicating with your child. Never use the dentist as a deterrent for bad behaviour such as not brushing teeth. And remember that the dental team is well-trained in dealing with babies and young children.

Brushing your baby’s teeth

As your child grows up, maintaining dental health will require ongoing effort. You should begin modelling good dental health practices early on so your child sees them as a normal part of life.

Even if your child has only a few teeth, bacteria can get in and start causing decay, so you should start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth erupts. One great way to get your child used to teeth cleaning is to wipe their gums with a soft cloth twice a day.

As soon as the teeth appear, you can switch to using a soft children’s brush, with no toothpaste until 18 months of age, while your child lies on your lap or on a bed. And yes, flossing is necessary – your dentist can show you the correct technique.

Toddlers

If you’re the parent of a toddler, you’ll be well aware you’re in possession of a full-speed-ahead bundle of energy. Getting them to do anything can be a challenge, but when it comes to their oral health, it’s important you teach them early on that they need to look after their teeth and gums.

Get started early

Waiting until your child has a full set of teeth before they visit a dentist for the first time might seem sensible, but the general rule of thumb is that this visit should happen by the time they turn 12 months old or when their first tooth becomes visible. Early dental visits will give you knowledge about what you need to do to protect your child’s teeth from decay early on.

Brushing your child’s teeth

One of the first things your dentist will discuss with you is the importance of teaching you how to brush and floss your child’s teeth. Initially, using just cold water on a soft children’s toothbrush, you should gently brush each tooth and massage the gums in a soft, circular motion. You can start using toothpaste when they reach 18 months.

Begin flossing your baby’s teeth as soon as two teeth touch. Your dentist can show you the correct technique if you’re not sure. You can make cleaning your toddler’s teeth more fun by creating a brushing game, putting on their favourite song, or finding a toothbrush or toothpaste with a beloved TV character on it.

How to prevent dental decay in kids

Kids will often put up a fight when it comes to cleaning their teeth, but if it’s not done regularly, tooth decay can set in, resulting in a host of painful problems, including the removal of teeth in extreme cases.

Along with instituting a twice-daily routine of brushing and flossing, try to limit their consumption of sugary foods and drinks, such as lollies and soft drinks, and even savoury biscuits, snack bars, and muffins. If you do give your child a snack, choose unprocessed foods such as vegetables, cheeses, and lean meats. With snacks, it’s best to stick to meal times and limit grazing.

Checking for decay

You can easily check the state of your child’s teeth by lifting their top and bottom lips and checking for white patches – the early warning signs of decay that can be reversed. Grey, brown, or black spots indicate more serious decay. In either case, book an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.

Dental trauma and first aid

“Accidents happen” is one of those phrases we casually throw around without thinking. But accidents can have serious consequences for our teeth. The good news is that much of the trauma of dental injury can be minimised if you know what precautions to take and what to do in the unfortunate event you suffer damage to your teeth.

Don’t assume anything

Teeth can be cracked, chipped, or become loose from accidents in ways not visible to the naked eye. Failure to get them checked out quickly by your dentist may mean sustaining otherwise avoidable long-term damage. But you can also do quite a bit before you reach the dentist.

Trauma to baby teeth

You only need to be around babies or toddlers for a second to realise that bumps, knocks, and spills are a standard part of growing up. If your child knocks out a tooth, quickly follow these steps to minimise any long-term damage:

  1. find the tooth, make sure it’s clean, and hold it by the crown only, not the root;
  2. place the tooth back in position, making sure it’s facing the right way (if it’s a baby tooth, don’t place it back in); if you can’t replant the tooth, put it in milk or saliva;
  3. get to your dentist straight away, bringing the tooth with you.

Dental trauma can also take other forms.

If your child develops a toothache, book an appointment with your dentist right away. In the meantime, do the following:

  1. rinse your child’s mouth with salt water;
  2. give them paracetamol (acetaminophen) to alleviate pain;
  3. if there’s swelling present, apply a cold compress.

This doesn’t apply to babies who are teething.

If your child’s retainer or braces become broken or bent, they shouldn’t wear the appliance again until it’s been fitted or adjusted by their orthodontist.

Trauma to adult teeth in older kids

Again, the key thing is to act quickly. Try to get to your dentist as quickly as possible, ideally within 30 minutes. In the meantime, do the following:

  1. find the tooth, and hold it by the crown only, not the root;
  2. if the tooth is dirty, rinse it with milk, but don’t scrub or soak it;
  3. place the tooth back in position, making sure it’s facing the right way; once it’s in, have the child gently bite down on soft cloth or tissue, or use aluminium foil or their mouth guard to hold it in place;
  4. If you can’t replant the tooth, transport it in milk or saliva.