Dental Care for Older Children

Encouraging good dental health in our children helps them to make the most of their appearance and gives them confidence. It also helps avoid the mouths full of bad teeth needing fillings and extractions that used to be common in children.

Why looking after milk teeth matters

Dietary advice for children

Setting up a dental care routine

Your child and the dentist

If your child knocks out a tooth

Why looking after milk teeth matters

It's a mistake to think that "milk teeth don't count" just because they eventually fall out and are replaced by the second, permanent teeth. Looking after milk teeth in babies and young children helps normal speech, biting and chewing to develop properly. The milk teeth help to prepare the way for the second teeth - extractions can mean that the second teeth grow in in the wrong place, or crooked. And who would inflict the pain and unsightliness of bad teeth on their child, or deny them the confidence in their appearance that a set of perfect milk teeth can give?

Dietary advice for children

Children need to follow the same general dietary rules for good dental health as adults. This means limiting the amount of sugary foods and drinks they have, and avoiding snacks between meals. Of course, most children love sweets, fizzy drinks and other foods that are bad for their teeth, and parents would be hard pressed to ban these altogether - but at least limit how often your child has them. If they are to have some sticky toffees or chocolate, it's best for them to eat everything at the same time. And beware 'diet' fizzy drinks - although they contain no sugar that could cause tooth decay, the acidity of some types can attack the teeth in just the same way. Likewise, dilute fresh fruit juices with water to reduce the sugar content and acidity that can harm teeth.

If your child needs a snack, stick to tooth-friendly alternatives to sweets, like -

Fruit: 'bite-sized' fresh fruits are often popular with children, including cherry tomatoes, grapes, cherries and strawberries

Nuts (not in children under three to avoid the risk of allergy or choking)

Popcorn (unsweetened)

Bread (or toast), bagels, plain crackers and unsweetened bread products such as breadsticks or pretzels

Crunchy raw vegetables like carrots, celery or pepper.

Setting up a dental care routine

By making sure your child gets used to taking care of their teeth and gums from the start as part of their normal routine, you are giving them the best chance of avoiding dental problems later. Begin by establishing regular tooth cleaning from babyhood and, once the child is old enough to hold their own toothbrush, let them help. Children over the age of about six years can clean their own teeth, but always check they are doing the job properly, and make twice-daily tooth brushing (after breakfast and last thing at night) a part of their everyday routine.

Children need to use smaller toothbrushes but with the same type of bristles as adults - and there are plenty of novel designs available to tempt even the most reluctant tooth-cleaners. Alternatively, the novelty of using an electric toothbrush may encourage some children to brush more regularly. Special toothpastes aimed at children are milder-tasting than adult toothpastes, or fruit flavoured to appeal to young tastebuds, but they still contain fluoride (at a lower level than adult toothpastes) to help prevent tooth decay. Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and supervise brushing in children under six years.

Your child and the dentist

Children can get used to regular trips to the dentist by accompanying you on your check-up visits to begin with. Your dentist may encourage them to sit in the 'special chair' and hold a mirror to watch how he or she looks at their teeth. Similarly, seeing you have your teeth scaled and polished will give them an introduction to how some of the equipment works, though it's probably best to avoid having your children accompany you when you need lengthy treatment, at least if they are very young. By presenting the dentist as a friendly, unthreatening person, you will do much to help your children accept their own dental visits later.

Children can benefit from having their teeth polished. The hygienist can also apply fluoride gels and solutions to help prevent decay. The permanent back teeth may also benefit from having the fissures sealed. This is done by applying a special plastic coating to the biting surface of the teeth soon after they erupt into the mouth. Sealants make the tooth surface smoother and easier to clean, and stop decay starting in the difficult to clean areas.

If your child knocks out a tooth

If you child knocks out a permanent tooth, it may be possible for the dentist to re-implant it. Retrieve the tooth and either put it in milk or ask the child to hold it inside their cheek, and see a dentist as soon as possible. The less time that elapses, the more likely it is that the tooth will successfully re-implant.

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