Oral health has an important role in the general health and wellbeing of individuals. Poor oral health can affect the ability of children and young people to sleep, eat, speak, play and socialise with other children. For parents, it’s critical to ensure your child has a beautiful healthy smile that will last them a lifetime. Here’s your guide to good dental health for your family
Benefits of positive dental habits
Starting good dental habits in childhood helps to establish a lifetime of positive oral health routines that can prevent dental problems in adulthood.
Prevent tooth decay
Having sugary food and drink throughout the day is harmful for children’s teeth because it means teeth have more contact with sugar and don’t have time to recover. Give your child a varied diet and limit the amount and number of times they have sugar in the day.
You should keep any sugar to meal times and inbetween meals choose healthy snacks such as fruit, vegetables or cheese. Choose sugar-free medicines and always ask your doctor or pharmacist for sugar-free.
Helps with speech development
Healthy teeth, tongue, and jaws play an important role in speech development, and a good oral health routine can help improve speech quality.
If you’re worried about your child’s speech, speak to your GP or health visitor and ask to be referred to the Speech and Language Therapist – nhs.uk website
Improves overall health
Poor oral health is associated with other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease therefore good oral health habits from an early age can help to improve overall health.
A healthy mouth and beautiful smile enhance a child’s self-esteem, helping them feel more confident in social situations. This will affect how they present themselves in later life. It could even link to the levels of confidence that help with exams or job interviews.
Reduces dental anxiety
Good oral health habits from an early age can reduce the likelihood of dental anxiety and fear in adulthood. Fear of the dentist as a grown up can prevent someone from visiting the dentist which means any oral health issues could worsen.
Maintaining good oral hygiene from childhood can prevent costly dental procedures later in life. Many adults put off going to the dentist because of the cost but if your little one has always had regular dentist visits and kept up with good oral hygiene, they’re less likely to need dental work as adults.
Regular dentist visits
It’s never too early to start taking your baby to the dentist and attend as often as they recommend. They can get used to going and you can get advice on caring for their teeth. The dentist can also look out for problems at an early stage.
Ask your dentist about fluoride varnish which is applied to your child’s teeth to help make them stronger.
NHS dental treatment and advice is free for all children.
To find a dentist, you can visit ask at your local clinic or:
- Find a dentist – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
- Phone NHS England on 0300 311 223 or
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Get into a good toothbrushing routine
- Start to brush as soon as teeth appear, usually around the age of six months of age
- For children under 3 years old use a smear of family toothpaste that contains the right amount of fluoride, toothpaste containing at least 1350 ppmF are the most effective at helping to prevent tooth decay
- From 3 years old use a small pea size amount of toothpaste containing at least 1350 ppmF
- Encourage your child to spit out and do not rinse the mouth out with water, as this will wash away the fluoride toothpaste that strengthens the tooth surface
- Remember to brush the teeth twice a day especially at bedtime and at one other time in the day
- Bedtime brushing is best as it allows the toothpaste to work whilst your child is asleep
- Help your child to brush their teeth until at least the age of 7 years old. For some children this will be longer, for example if you have a child with additional needs
- Reduced cost toothbrushes, toothpaste and free flow feeder cups are available from all Children’s Centres
Not all children like having their teeth brushed, so you may have to keep trying and:
- keep to the routine and don’t let it turn into a battle
- don’t change to a children’s toothpaste, as some do not contain the recommended level of fluoride
- make it into a game, use music, a timer, toothbrushing apps or brush your own teeth at the same time and then help your child finish their own
The easiest way to brush a baby’s teeth is to sit them on your knee with their head resting against your chest. With an older child, stand behind them and tilt their head upwards.
Tooth brushing tips for babies
Use a smear of toothpaste
Babies and toddlers up to 3 years old need just a small smear of fluoride toothpaste when brushing their teeth, increasing to a pea-sized amount for children aged 3 to 6 years.
Sit them on your knee
The easiest way to brush a baby’s teeth is to sit them on your knee with their head resting against your chest. With an older child, stand behind them and tilt their head backwards.
Make sure the toothpaste is going on their teeth
Check to make sure your child gets the right amount of toothpaste and they’re not eating or licking toothpaste from the tube.
Provide a helping hand
Carry on helping your child brush their teeth until they’re at least 7 years old
Sugar and tooth decay
Having too much sugar can cause teeth to decay. This is caused not only by the amount of sugar in sweet food and drinks, but by how often the teeth are in contact with the sugar.
When sugary drinks are given in a bottle or cup they can quickly damage your child’s front teeth as they bathe the teeth in sugar for long periods of time. To keep your child’s teeth healthy and free from tooth decay follow the advice below.
Breast feeding provides the best nutrition for babies
From 6 months of age infants should be introduced to drinking from a free flow cup, and from age 1 year feeding from a bottle should be discouraged
Plain water and milk are the only drinks that won’t damage teeth and should be the only drinks given between meals
Sugar should not be added to weaning foods or drinks
Reduce both frequency and amount of sugary foods and drinks by keeping to mealtimes only. Any drinks given should be diluted as much as possible and given only at mealtimes
In-between meals choose healthy snacks such as fruit and vegetables
If your child needs to take any medicines choose or request a sugar free variety
Never give food or drinks containing sugars within one hour before bedtime as the saliva in the mouth slows down and will increase the risk of tooth decay.
The sugars in fresh fruit juices and dried fruits can damage teeth so keep to mealtimes
Don’t use sweet food such as biscuits, sweets or chocolates as rewards or treats and ask relatives and friends to do the same. Use items such as stickers, badges, hair slides, crayons, small books, notebooks, colouring books and bubbles. They may be more expensive than sweets but they last longer and are more fun!!
Give your teeth a rest – if children are having sweet foods or drinks, it’s less harmful for their teeth if they have them all at once and at the end of a meal rather than eating them little by little and/or between meals
Give all the family a varied diet and limit their sugar intake, look for ways of cutting down
Cut the costs
You can buy toothbrushes and toothpaste at your local children’s centre, and three products cost just £1.50 (one item must be fluoride toothpaste). Free-flow feeder cups are also available to buy for £1.20.