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“How do I care for my baby’s teeth and help prevent decay?”

– from Mrs G. Cooke

Answered by our specialist children’s dentist, Dr. Ellie Aliakbari:

Your baby’s primary or ‘milk’ teeth may only be temporary tools to help them chew food easily and learn to speak clearly, only to be replaced later by their second, permanent pearls. But it’s no less important to take good care of them and establish the habits that will lead your child toward a lifetime of good dental health. Decayed or lost baby teeth can interfere with good nutrition and speech development, and by not holding a proper place for permanent teeth, can make the permanent ones come in crooked.

So how do you  make sure that your baby’s teeth get the best start in life?

1) Start before the first tooth even arrives!

Gently clean your baby’s gums after every feeding using a clean, damp washcloth or a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head made just for babies.

As soon as the first primary tooth arrives, you can start brushing it with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Brush the front and back of your baby’s tooth and lift your baby’s lips to make sure you get the gum line. You should brush your baby’s teeth and gums twice a day.

2) Spit, don’t rinse

Encourage your child to spit out excess toothpaste, but not rinse their mouth with water. Why? Because rinsing washes away valuable fluoride which has shown to reduce dental decay. From the age of 3 your child can use a pea-sized amount of adult toothpaste.

3) Work on eliminating the bedtime feed

From the age of 1, try bringing the bedtime feed forward and finished at least an hour before bedtime. The ideal is to have nothing, apart from water, in the hour before bed. When we sleep, our mouths dry out and we lose the protective effect of saliva. This is why eating in the hour before bed is a recipe for disaster for your teeth! Although milk is a low sugar food, it can still cause damage if left in the mouth overnight, especially if your toddler has got used to feeding on demand through the night.

4) Stop the bottle

From the age of 6 months you can begin to introduce a free-flow cup. The aim is to eliminate the bottle by the time your child is one. Please don’t ever put any sugary drinks such as juice (including no added sugar squash, which still contains sugars) or sweetened tea in a bottle as they bathe the teeth in sugar over the course of the day and night which accelerates decay in the soft enamel. The best drinks for young children are milk and water as long as they are a good eater.

5) Read the label

“No added sugar” does not equal “Sugar free”! Please keep squash to mealtimes or as a treat only. When accompanied with eating food, the sugar causes less damage to teeth because it is the same “intake” of food. Fizzy drinks should be avoided as much as possible as the danger is the acid which can cause erosive damage to your child’s teeth.

6) Keep sweet treats to mealtimes

The key things with diet are to minimise the quantity and frequency of sugary foods. Make sure treats such as chocolate and sweets are eaten with a meal or straight after. You should be aiming for no more than 4-5 intakes per day.

7) Lose that dummy

Dummies or pacifiers up to the age of 1 are fine. That said, please don’t ever dip the dummy in something sweet to get your child to take it! Also be mindful of prolonged dummy use, by that I mean after the age of 1, because this has the potential to cause ‘anterior open bite’, where the teeth do not grow together and a gap is left at the front of the mouth. You should also find it less traumatic to lose the dummy if you try to do it before a real emotional attachment has formed, at around 18 months of age.

8) Supervise brushing

Supervise your child’s brushing until they are 8 years old, as there is evidence to show that they do not have the manual skill to do it alone until this time. By all means let them brush their own teeth, but make sure you go in afterwards to ensure everything is nice and clean. Disclosing tablets can also be fun and helpful for spot checks on older children!

9) Go for regular check-ups

Take your child for a checkup every 6 months, or more frequently if your dentist recommends. These visits will allow your child to get used to the dental environment and for your dentist to spot problems when they are easily fixable. Your dentist can also provide treatments such as topical fluoride (painting fluoride onto the teeth) and fissure sealants (coating of back teeth) to reduce the risk of dental decay.

10) Use a fluoride mouthwash

Once your child can spit out effectively, you can encourage them to use a fluoride mouthwash at a different time of day to when they brush their teeth. Why a different time of day? Because then you can have more exposure to fluoride at a different time of the day. Did you know that using a fluoride mouthwash every day can reduce dental decay by 30%.

Do you have a question about your oral health that you would like to ask the team of clinicians here at The Raglan Suite? Simply email it to cristawebber@raglansuite.co.uk.

“How do I look after my teeth during pregnancy?”

Taking good care of your baby begins with you during pregnancy. When you’re expecting, even your teeth will benefit from some TLC. Here are five ways to care for your teeth when pregnant:

Switch to a softer toothbrush. This will help you to apply gentle pressure to your gums. Many mums-to-be have swollen, red, tender gums that bleed when flossed or brushed. This is due to mild inflammation of the gums during pregnancy. Rising hormone levels can also make your gums hyper sensitive to the bacteria in plaque.

Take good care of your gums. Did you know that periodontal disease during pregnancy is linked to premature birth and low birth weight? Along with periodontal disease, pregnant women can also be more susceptible to gingivitis and tooth decay. So don’t forget to floss and keep those gums clean!

Keep regular appointments at the dentist. Dental checks, hygienist cleanings and routine preventative care will benefit the baby as well, who’ll experience lower risk of exposure to cavity-causing bacteria.

Brush regularly. Acidity levels in the mouth increase during pregnancy, which increases the potential for cavities. If you are vomiting regularly due to morning sickness, this can also create an acidic environment. Fortunately, this is nothing a good, regular brushing can’t cure!

Eat well—for you and the baby. Diet and dental health deficiencies during pregnancy may cause changes in baby’s tooth formation and leave their teeth at greater risk for decay later in life. Children of mothers who consume sugar in large quantities are four times more likely to suffer from tooth decay than those of mums with low sugar consumption. Instead, choose foods that are high in calcium and phosphorous, vitamins and minerals.

Do you have a question about your oral health that you would like to ask the team of clinicians here at The Raglan Suite? Simply email it to cristawebber@raglansuite.co.uk.

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