Ms. Etain Kett
Public Affairs and Communications Manager, Dental Health Foundation Ireland
Children are at risk of tooth decay as soon as their first tooth appears! Tooth decay is diet-related and is the most common chronic childhood disease. However, it is preventable.
Children with tooth decay are at risk of pain, infection, and tooth loss. It may affect their nutrition, growth, and daily life or cause higher risk of decay in their adult teeth.
Brushing their teeth is important for oral health, but a balanced/low sugar diet is equally important. This is because tooth decay happens when sugar in a child’s mouth (from consuming food and drinks) is turned into acid by bacteria in the dental plaque. This acid can damage the tooth enamel, causing a hole or cavity. Plaque is a colourless, sticky film that builds up on the teeth every day, and is removed by brushing properly.
Practicing proper oral hygiene
Introducing an oral health routine to a child before their teeth appear is good practice; by cleaning their gums using a clean, damp cloth after feeding. When the first tooth appears, gently brush with water and a soft brush twice daily and avoid toothpaste unless recommended by a dentist. Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste from age two, as this helps to make teeth stronger. Supervise their toothbrushing until around seven years of age. Brush twice daily—at night before bed and in the morning—for about two to three minutes. Encourage and teach them to spit out the toothpaste at the end of brushing without rinsing afterwards.
Children are not born with a sweet tooth. Introduce healthy eating habits including lots of fruit and vegetables.
Good habits help prevent tooth decay
Children are not born with a sweet tooth. Introduce healthy eating habits including lots of fruit and vegetables. Offering them sweet drinks or food or dipping a soother in anything sugary is not recommended.
Bacteria that cause tooth decay can be transferred from an adult to an infant, so it is best not to share toothbrushes, spoons, and cups or lick soothers.
Sugary food and drinks between meals increase the chance of tooth decay. Water or milk are the best if the child is thirsty.
Be aware of medicines and their sugar content. Always ask for sugar-free medication from your pharmacist.
Visit your dentist by baby’s first birthday for advice on caring for their teeth
Finally, don’t forget that you can set a good example. Be a role model by brushing your own teeth twice a day, flossing, and limiting your sugar intake.