Eight answers to commonly asked questions about toddler and kids’ teeth, brushing and oral care

April 8, 2015

I recently ran a giveaway for a Philips Sonicare rechargeable toothbrush for kids, and then someone asked me how does one get a child to brush their teeth properly, and I realised I had no idea, or answer. I pretty much taught my child by doing, but even so, I’m not sure he has the right method (through no fault of his own).

So I asked for some advice, and got it, via IVOhealth’s oral hygiene expert Dirna Grobbelaar. Here are her answers:

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What is the cause of bad breath in babies?

The most common cause of bad breath is inadequate oral hygiene. However in young children there could be other causes – including a sinus infection, a foreign object lodged in the in the nose, enlarged tonsils or reflux. So if your baby’s breath smells bad it is best to check with your doctor, particularly if your baby doesn’t yet have teeth.

An effective oral care routine – brushing properly twice a day, daily flossing as soon as the teeth start touching one another and rinsing with an alcohol-free mouthwash after the age of six years – should keep breath fresh and the gums healthy.

How do you clean baby’s mouth?

You should start cleaning your baby’s mouth before the first tooth arrives. Simple wipe the gums using a clean, damp facecloth or piece of gauze. Starting early will help get the child used to brushing teeth once those beautiful first teeth come through.

Fluoride supplements can be given from the age of 6 months up to 12 years, when the last teeth have formed in the jaw.

What types of toothbrushes should toddlers use?

The right toothbrush is very important. Softer and smaller heads are always a better option.  The softer bristles will be gentle on the gums and be more effective at removing plaque.

A rechargeable brush like the Philips Sonicare for Kids is clinically proven to be more effective at removing plaque than a manual brush. They have been designed to make brushing fun and easy.

How do you teach toddlers to brush their teeth properly?

Electric or battery brushes for older children will make it easier for them to effectively remove plaque.  Some rechargeable brushes, like the Philips Sonicare for Kids, have a built-in timer to help the child brush for the full two minutes recommended by dental professionals, like those at Ironwood Pediatric Dentistry.

Most important is keeping the plaque off and never letting your children go to bed without brushing.  I always tell my young patients that the plaque germs have midnight party in your mouth if you don’t brush before bed!  At night our mouths is dark, warm and humid – this is perfect environment for bacteria to breed.

When should children start flossing? 

About 90 percent of dental problems start between the teeth. It’s important to clean in-between a child’s teeth as soon as the teeth start touching. Flossing should be a daily habit.

Traditional floss can be awkward for some people to use but there is a vast array of interdental cleaners on the market these days including the Sunstar GUM Automatic Flosbrush which has floss on a special handle making it much easier for the parent to floss the child’s teeth.

Flossing should never be uncomfortable for your child – if that is the case, it is possible that your technique is wrong or that you are using the wrong interdental aid. Your oral hygienist should be able to assist you in finding the perfect interproximal cleaning aid.

What tooth problems should parents look out for in their kids?

The most common problem or ‘danger’ for children’s oral health is cavities, which are caused by bacteria in plaque (streptococcus mutans) that thrive in an acidic environment. Fruit juices, fizzy drinks, chocolate and sugary foods make the mouth more acidic, feeding this ‘bad’ bacteria, which then eats away at your tooth’s enamel.

Some parents may not be too concerned about cavities in first teeth, but early tooth loss can lead to many other dental problems later on such as spacing between the teeth and teeth erupting wrongly.

Is it damaging to leave a feeding bottle in baby’s mouth overnight?

Never ever let your baby go to sleep with a bottle.  Let them finish drinking before bed, take the bottle away and gently brush their teeth.

Bottle-feeding cavities / caries are very common and show as darker areas on the teeth, mostly in-between the upper front teeth and close to the gum line.  It is caused by prolonged contact with sugar or acidic fluids.

At what age should kids first see a dentist?

We recommend visiting the dentist from around three years old for a simple check-up so your child can start building up a trusting relationship with the dentist and once a year thereafter.


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