As decay rates in some areas of the North West of England are more than twice the national average, we asked Helen Clint, an NHS dentist and Educational Supervisor in Liverpool about why baby teeth are so important and what are her best tips for looking after them.
Baby teeth matter and it is important to keep them healthy and decay free.
Even though they fall out eventually, baby teeth serve several important functions, which contribute to the development of a healthy child and school readiness.
Baby teeth start to come through at around 6 months old and start to be lost at around 5-6 years old but some of the back baby teeth are present until 12 years old and beyond.
Baby teeth can affect your little one’s:
– Smile – appearance of teeth can impact a child’s confidence, social skills and emotional development
– Speech – teeth are important components for making sounds
– Eating – teeth are important to help little ones eat a balanced and varied diet
– Ability to learn and thrive – toothache can result in disturbed sleep and missed days from school-this can impact on the whole family as parents and caregivers may need to miss work to attend appointments with their little ones
If baby teeth are lost prematurely, the spaces for adult teeth to come through into can be reduced.
Tips to look after baby teeth
- Enamel on baby (primary) teeth is thinner than on adult teeth, making the teeth more susceptible to tooth decay, so it is important to look after them, as tooth decay is a largely preventable problem, yet around 1 in 4 children will start school with tooth decay.
- Start brushing when your baby’s teeth first come through with an appropriate fluoride toothpaste containing at least 1000ppmF, using a flat smear of toothpaste for 0-3 year olds and a small pea sized amount of more than 1000ppmF for 3-6 year olds (or an appropriate family toothpaste is also suitable)
- Brush teeth twice daily, night time is the most important time for brushing and one other time.
Aim for 2 minutes each time, encourage your child to spit out but don’t rinse the toothpaste with water
- Stick to an everyday Toothbrushing routine that little ones can eventually do on their own, supervising until 7 years old. Normalising toothbrushing will make it part of your child’s everyday routine.
- Only ever give milk or plain water in a bottle and introduce free-flow cups from around 6 months. From age 1, drinking from a bottle should be discouraged.
- Reduce the amount AND frequency of sugar intake, stick to meal times only for treats if you are going to give them, once per day maximum.
- Natural or artificial sweeteners (including sugar, honey and fruit juices) should not be added to weaning foods or drinks. Check labels on shop bought products for sugar content – foods marketed to parents as ‘healthy’ and full of natural ingredients can be high in sugar. Examples of these include ‘fruit pouches’, which should be served via a spoon rather than the nozzle and ‘fruit’ bars – these products often do not live up to claims on their packaging and can be high in sugar in the form of fruit juices, purées and concentrates.
- Start thinking about taking away your child’s dummy as they approach their first birthday. Gently withdrawing and reducing use will prevent long term problems including misalignment of teeth.
- Parents and guardians are encouraged to take children in their care to a dentist when their teeth start to come through and ideally by their first birthday. The British Society of Paediatric Dentistry have a UK wide campaign that encourages all parents and guardians to ensure that young children see a dentist as soon as their first teeth come through, and before their first birthday. NHS dental treatment is free for mothers with children under 1 too!
If you live in England, you can find details of how to find an NHS dentist at www.nhs.uk in the NHS Services section, click on ‘find a dentist’. If you can’t find a dentist accepting NHS patients, you should call NHS England’s Customer Contract Centre on 0300 311 2233. For other regions, please contact your local health board who will be able to direct you to the appropriate department.