Teeth care for kids

Set your kids up with pearly whites to be proud of. Here’s how to teach them good brushing habits.

Written by Dr Philippa Sawyer

Starting from an early age, teach your children about the importance of dental hygiene by building a fun brushing and flossing routine together. Encouraging your children to take responsibility for their own oral care and instilling healthy habits not only helps prevent cavities, but also boosts your child's self-esteem.

Remember positive reward systems work, and games and songs help to pass the time and distract from the task, just like taking a bath or changing a nappy.

When is a good age to introduce flossing?

Parents should start encouraging their children to floss when their baby teeth start coming through. Once a child’s teeth start to fit closely together, usually between the ages of two and six, parents should start to get their children in the habit of flossing daily.

Should children brush their teeth morning and night?

Children should brush their teeth for at least two minutes in the morning before breakfast and last thing before going to bed. They should never brush their teeth straight after a meal as it can damage the teeth, especially if they have had fruit, soft drinks or any other food that contains acid. This is because tooth enamel is softened by the acid and can be worn away by brushing. Wait about an hour after a meal before brushing your teeth.

Remember that young children need their parents or a responsible adult to assist with brushing. Small kids do not have the manual dexterity to achieve adequate brushing. A soft toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste is best.

"The health of your child’s baby teeth can also affect the health of their adult teeth."

What age should tooth brushing start?

Start cleaning your children’s teeth as soon as they start coming through. This can be done firstly using a clean damp cloth and then moving onto a soft children’s toothbrush. Cleaning twice a day will start the habit of regular brushing. A specially formulated toothpaste with low content of fluoride is recommended for kids from 18 months until about six years of age. Regular visits to the dentist will offer parents the best information possible, but remember positive reward systems work best.

Myths about children and teeth

  • Myth: Baby teeth aren’t important, they will fall out anyway

Baby teeth are natural space maintainers for the permanent teeth. If your child loses a baby tooth too early, this could cause crowding of the permanent teeth. The health of your child’s baby teeth can also affect the health of their adult teeth. If you leave dental decay in a baby tooth, it could eventually cause your child pain, abscess and swelling, and affect the adult tooth developing under the baby tooth. The infection could even spread to other parts of the child’s body.

  • Myth: Fluoride isn’t safe to swallow and may harm my child

Scientific evidence indicates that, as with other nutrients, fluoride in safe and effective when used and consumed properly. In fact, fluoride has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to prevent tooth decay.

  • Myth: Bottled water is just as good for your teeth as tap water

Tap water contains an important ingredient (fluoride) which has proven to strengthen the enamel of your teeth. Most bottled water does not contain fluoride, which means your child is missing out on this great vitamin for their teeth.

  • Myth: It doesn’t matter that my child sucks their fingers

If your child has a finger habit, the goal is to stop the habit as soon as possible, especially before front adult teeth are erupting. You want to avoid any force placed on these teeth so they can grow in their natural positions.

  • Myth: Bad breath is only caused by not brushing your teeth properly

Halitosis (bad breath) is a common condition caused by sulpha-producing bacteria that live within the surface of the tongue and in the throat. The treatment of bad breath will depend on the underlying cause. Smoking, dry mouth, dental infections and nasal or sinus infections can cause bad breath. Good oral hygiene, including brushing, flossing and tongue cleaning, is important.

Listen now for tips on how to take care of your children's teeth.

Written by Dr Philippa Sawyer

Dr Philippa Sawyer is the Managing Director of Crows Nest Day Surgery and has practiced as a dentist for more than 30 years. She specialises in children with special needs and complex medical issues.

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