Remember when looking after your teeth wasn’t second nature? For most adults, it’s difficult to think back to a time when we needed to be shown what to do.
As a parent – particularly a new parent - you will likely feel the need to care for your children’s teeth as if they were your own. Ensuring your child learns the appropriate oral care habits that lead to healthy teeth is a vital task, and getting the basics right is crucial.
Throughout infancy, healthy teeth are important. Good habits can lead to cavity free-teeth without complications, giving your child a smile they are proud of once they’re older.
But with all of the challenges that new parents face, educating and taking care of your child's oral health can be a stressful task and an unexpected undertaking.
Whether you’re looking for general information related to your child’s dental health, or guidance on a specific issue, it’s normal to have a long list of questions.
Here, we have answered common queries, giving you important information that is bound to lend a helping hand:
Like parent like child, good oral hygiene starts at home. This journey begins in knowing how many teeth are present in your child’s mouth, and how many you need to help them care for. Having this knowledge will be your first building block.
“Generally, by age 3, you should be able to count all 20 primary teeth in your child’s mouth,” says Mandy Hayre, President of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA).
The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) recommends that children should visit an oral health professional within 6 months of the eruption of their first tooth or by the age of one year – whichever is earlier.
This initial examination is a good opportunity for parent’s to learn about healthy oral habits and to have their child’s oral health and development assessed by a professional. At this visit, you will likely discuss if the oral cleaning habits at home are working and your dentist may also talk to you about fluoride.
According to the Canadian Dental Association, fluoride is the most important health measure in maintaining oral health – for both adults and children.
You should only use fluoridated toothpaste (a portion the size of a grain of rice) in children from birth to 3 years of age if your dental health professional has determined that they are at a high risk for tooth decay.
If the child is not considered to be at risk, the teeth should be brushed by an adult using a toothbrush moistened only with water. Your child should then be introduced to fluoride toothpaste when they are 3 years of age. Only a small amount (a portion the size of a green pea) should be used.
“Front teeth on the top and bottom fall out first, usually around the age of 5 or 6, with the last baby tooth falling out around age 12,” says Hayre.
“Even though your child will eventually lose their primary teeth (also called baby teeth) proper oral care and hygiene should not be ignored. If your child loses their baby teeth early due to dental decay or infection, it can affect their growth and development - including speech development and nutrition,” adds Hayre.
Whether it’s in adults or toddlers, the common causes of tooth decay are a combination of bacteria, food, acid, and saliva form a substance called plaque that sticks to the teeth. Over time, the acids produced by the bacteria eat away at the tooth enamel, causing cavities.
The most commons signs of tooth decay in children may include white spots on teeth first, then as early cavity develops a light brown color on the tooth. Tooth color becomes darker and a hole may appear. Symptoms such as sensitivity to sweets and cold beverages may occur. Footnote5
If left undetected or untreated, tooth decay in young children or toddlers can cause severe pain, infection, or tooth loss. To be safe, you should regularly inspect your children’s teeth and pay close attention to changes in the teeth and gums.
“Don’t ignore white chalky spots or other discolorations on the teeth, as this may indicate an early sign of tooth decay. If you notice these changes in your child’s teeth, you should visit your oral health provider as soon as possible,” explains Hayre.
Cavities can cause your child discomfort, infection, sensitivity and lead to ongoing problems later on. But the good news is: cavities in children are preventable and with proper measures, they can be avoided.
According to the CDHA, there are several preventive steps that parents can take with young children. These include: cleaning the inside of your child’s mouth after feedings - by using a gauze pad or a soft cloth. You should also avoid putting them to bed with a bottle – especially if it contains milk, formula, or juice. These liquids contain sugar that can put the teeth at risk for developing dental cavities.
To help prevent cavities, you should also follow your children the simple three-step formula below on a daily basis: