A parental guide to toddler dental health

Brush baby, brush

The battle begins after dinner every night. Armed with a toothbrush with a pepper seed-sized drop of toothpaste, I announce (beg) to my almost-three-year-old son that it’s time to brush his teeth. He runs for his life, but in the end, almost always ends up with squeaky-clean teeth and I, a few kilograms less from all the chasing. Getting a toddler to brush his/her teeth can be a monumental task for parents. Needless to say, they need to get into the habit, even at the milk-teeth level. Here, Coimbatore-based Dr N Varshini, paediatric dentist, tells us why it’s important that children start early.

The first toothbrush

Introduce a toothbrush the moment the first tooth appears. Pick a regular, small-headed one with nylon bristles and not a silicon finger-brush. The latter does not clean plaque well. You can also go in for bamboo ones, provided the head is small enough to reach the molars. Use the toothbrush to gently clean gums as well. In fact, you can start cleaning your child’s gums from the third month of birth. Dip a small piece of gauze cloth in clean drinking water and wipe your baby’s gums and tongue after every feed.

Toothpaste matters

Choose any child-friendly, fluoride-free, natural toothpaste in the market. Ideally, make sure that your child’s first dental visit happens by the time they turn one, and get a toothpaste that’s tailored around your child’s needs, prescribed by your dentist. For children with caries, it is essential that they brush with a fluoride toothpaste so that it does not spread.

Use just a tiny speck of paste initially. If your child is fussy and does not know how to spit, brushing with even plain water twice a day will do the trick. Many children learn to spit by the time they are one-and-a-half years old, and some might do so once they turn three, depending on their individual milestones. They can start brushing on their own once they can tie their shoelaces; this indicates that fine motor skills are well-developed.

The technique

Brush for two minutes twice a day, and if possible, slip another session into the day after they’ve had something chewy to eat. A tooth has five surfaces; make sure that you brush all of them well, especially the space between teeth and the molars.

A parental guide to toddler dental health

Food and dental health

Start night-weaning once solids are introduced after the sixth month. Although extended breastfeeding is beneficial for your child, night-feeding is not good from the dental health perspective. So try and wean your child off the night feed by the end of one year. This is because in sleep, salivary and flushing action is reduced, resulting in multiplication of bad bacteria. This may render some teeth yellow, then brown, and finally, black and painful. For children who cannot be night-weaned, their teeth and gums can be cleaned with xylitol wipes after a night feed.

Sticky foods are a big no, especially at night. Chocolates and caramel, for instance, stick to the teeth and toddlers may not even feel this. While it is not possible to keep them away from sweets all the time, offer something raw afterwards. A carrot or apple to chew on, following a chocolate, cleanses the teeth.

Brushing tips

It’s a good idea for both parents to take turns with the brushing so it becomes a fun-filled activity. Standing behind your child while brushing, is the easiest position. Incorporate a ‘brushing song’; encourage them to stand in front of the mirror while brushing so they can see what’s happening. Consider brushing along with your children, to make it a habit.

Danger signs

Healthy milk teeth will indirectly pave the way for sturdy permanent teeth. Nursing bottle caries are common in children below five years; these appear on the front teeth. Look out for any change in the colour of teeth — it helps to shine a torchlight into their mouth once a month to keep watch.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 12:08:28 PM |

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