When we were kids, I avoided brushing my teeth at all costs, while my big brother made the dentist proud by taking great care of his. Sadly he still suffered more dental pain than any kid should go through.
It started when he was about 7 years old and rode his bike into the back of a parked car, knocking out his front teeth. Then as a teen he took a baseball to the face, knocking out the same teeth and more (also breaking his jaw, giving him his first piece of titanium in the body!).
It doesn’t take a lot to be luckier than my bro when it comes to your teeth. But the truth is that brushing day & night isn’t the only thing that you need to do to take care of your teeth when you’re a kid.
I met with Dr Vipul Bhatia of Crown Dental Clinic recently. About 25% of his patients are children/teens, so I wanted to learn what issues he sees most in his practice. “The smile is the first thing people see, it makes other people happy. So it’s important and you need to preserve teeth from a young age.”
By learning what impacts a child’s dental development – and by monitoring it – you can help keep teeth healthy. Dr Bhatia gave me some great insight on what to watch for at each age & stage of your children’s dental development.
Babies 0-2 years
Teething is the first time parents think about their children’s dental development. Seeing those pearly whites pop up is one of the first visible milestones. And its always comforting to know that there was a reason why your sweet baby has been so fussy.
What most parents don’t know is that the teeth develop in utero. Baby teeth appear within the first year, sometimes as early as 4 months of age but usually around 6 months. Teething does not cause fever, diaper rash or inconsolable crying but it’s still tough on kids.
During the teething times the best thing you can do is give your child an icy teething ring. Frequent gum massage also helps (even better, massage with an ice cube). The Pure Beginnings teething gel, available at Serurubele, Oodles of Caboodle, and Dis-Chem, is very comforting. It’s all natural and doesn’t contain numbing medicine.
If your child seems to be in a lot of discomfort, paracetamol syrup is helpful to ease the discomfort, but should only be given under the dentist’s recommendation. You must also ensure your child’s temperature is less than 38.4 degrees when you give it to rule out any viral infections.
To clean your baby’s teeth, wipe them with a soft cloth or a silicone finger brush. Once your baby is 12 months old it’s good to get them started with a very soft-bristled tooth brush.
“Familiarity with the dentist from a young age is important. Even one year olds should come in with an elder sibling or a parent, to get familiar with the sounds, smells and machines of the dentist’s office.” says Dr Bhatia.
Toddlers 2-4 years
What are the basics of brushing? What are we aiming to get kids used to doing?
- brush twice a day, when you wake in the morning and at night before bed
- don’t brush straight after a meal, because the acid produced in your mouth softens your teeth and brushing immediately after will wear down the softened teeth
- brush for 2 minutes… using a little timer will help!
- follow the age guidelines on toothpastes. They’re based on the amount of fluoride and your child’s ability to spit the toothpaste out. i.e. the toothpaste for 2-3 year olds will have less fluoride as they’re likely to swallow it. By age 6, they should know to spit out the toothpaste, so they can handle more fluoride.
Getting children into the habit of regular brushing can be tough. The good news is that brush charts, sticker charts, and fancy toothbrushes can all help. My 4 year old now accepts that she’s not allowed at school with “smelly teeth” so she’s good at brushing.
My 2 year old though, shew! What a fight! Fortunately a P47 electric toothbrush from Clicks made all the difference. She loves it and the brushing battles quickly stopped. Electric toothbrushes have an excitement factor that kids love.
I know I need to get my littlest to the dentist – and soon. This is the age when anxieties set in so I need my dentist’s help to gently avoid phobias.
“Anyone’s scared of the unknown so at our practice we follow the ‘Tell-Show-Do’ method with rewards for positive behaviour. When they open their mouth, we give them praise. We always try to be positive and let them feel the little rewards all along the way.”
Regular checkups are important so your dentist can catch anything in advance. By getting your child in the habit of visiting every 6 months, you’ll be sure to find any issues in advance so they can be prevented.
Young Children 5-8 years
“Look! My tooth is wobbly!”
Loosing their milk teeth is an exciting – but sometimes scary – milestone for young children. When the wobbly tooth doesn’t fall out on its own, it can be uncomfortable. This scares children so they leave it, causing more pain because the child can’t eat properly. Encourage your kids to give it a wobble and try to remove it. If that doesn’t work, visit your dentist and let them help. If the tooth is loose, your dentist can help with a spray of aesthetic to remove the pain and help the tooth come out.
Sometimes the incoming adult tooth can make the gum look bluish where the tooth is about to erupt. Part of the tooth might be out and part still hidden. Yet again, if it’s at all painful your dentist can help remove the discomfort. (Are you sensing a common theme here? This was the most-heard comment during my chat with Dr Bhatia!)
As the new teeth start to erupt, if there’s a high risk of cavities. “A child’s first set of molars come in around age six. As they appear we suggest having a fissure sealant put on to help reduce the chance of decay.” A fissure sealant keeps releasing fluoride. All studies show that fluoride is very good for teeth.
Many parents start to worry about whether their child will need braces. “As the adult teeth come in, there are lots of changes happening in the mouth. Overlapped teeth, where the baby teeth haven’t all fallen out, are very common. Parents shouldn’t need to worry; it’s all normal. You might want to consider some early intervention, but not usually before the age of 12.”
Older Kids 9-12 years
At this age, the biggest issue is supporting your child’s growing independence. They won’t want help brushing their teeth. They’re also more independent about their food choices at this age. It’s important to make sure your kids aren’t consuming too much sugar when they’re out. Diet changes contribute to many tooth issues at this age.
If your child has bad breath, their oral hygiene might need improvement. They may not be cleaning their tongue, or they may have cavities. Get them checked out by the dentist to be sure.
Some girls are also at risk of puberty-related gingivitis. If your daughter has any gum swelling or soreness, she might needs a good cleaning. There are also mouth rinses and such available to help with this gingivitis.
Teens 13-16+ years
It’s important to talk to teens and learn how they feel about crooked, discoloured, or overcrowded teeth.
“Teens lose confidence and suffer from low self-esteem. It’s very common and can affect a kid’s emotional development. If they want braces or anything like that it’ll make a huge difference to their confidence. It is so personal.” Let your children express themselves, then visit the dentist together. At least hear what the dentist has to say about the concerns and make an informed decision together.
An important note about cosmetic whitening: under 16 is too young. Even for adults, teeth whitening should only be done by a professional. The pens, strips, or whitening toothpastes on the market can lead to very sensitive teeth. If you want whiter teeth the best thing is to make sure you have a cleaning every six months.
As your teen gets older, wisdom teeth will be the new teething issue. With wisdom teeth comes pain, swelling, and obstruction. Go and get it checked out by your dentist because everyone’s situation will be unique. Some wisdom teeth will stay buried while others will start pushing through in your early twenties. Young adults may need to have to have them removed, others won’t because they will have space to move through.
Play Injuries at Any Age
Whether it was a fall from the furniture or a ball to the face, there are options for how to fix an injured tooth. It all depends on age.
If an adult tooth has been completely knocked out, soak it in room temperature milk and get to the dentist. In some cases the tooth can be put back in.
If its a baby tooth that’s injured, it can’t be put it back without impacting the development of the adult teeth. But baby teeth can be repositioned, so go and see your dentist if there’s been an accident.
Sometimes a tooth trauma might appear to heal without damage. Then 3-6 months later, the tooth begins darkening into a brownish colour. This usually doesn’t cause pain or impact adult teeth. But a visit to the dentist is necessary to make sure there isn’t unseen damage, infection or an abscess. Discolouration can be treated to make it the right colour again.
If your child plays sports like football, soccer, rugby, or martial arts, it’s best to use a mouthguard. Your dentist can make a custom one moulded to the form of your teeth.
I guess that’s the lesson my mother should have learned back in the 80’s. “Get Mike a mouthguard, and make sure he wears it.” Fortunately with his dentist’s help he ended up developing a great set of nashers. And he has already introduced his kids to the dentist.
- Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing twice a day for two minutes each time
- Clean in-between teeth using dental floss
- Use a fluoride containing toothpaste
- Use fluoride supplements such as mouth rinses
- Eat a healthy balanced diet, reducing sugar intake as much as possible
- Visit your dentist every 6months for checkup and cleanup
Dr. Vipul Bhatia was very generous with his time and expertise, helping us with this featured article. You can find him at Crown Dental Clinic, Plot 2875 Mobuto Drive (Opposite UB – next to Township Rollers). Contact them via Facebook, call +267 317 0333 or email [email protected].