Tooth brushing may seem the obvious way to prevent toddler teeth problems, but his mealtimes and diet play a huge part, too. Add these tips to your dental health checklist to (fingers crossed) avoid a situation requiring a drill (eek).
Be snack smart
Raisins and dried apricots seem like a healthy choice of snack (and sure, they beat sweets and chocolate) but they’re not the best for his teeth. ‘They’re sticky and the sugar gets caught between his teeth so has longer to attack them,’ explains Karen Coates, dental advisor for The British Dental Health Foundation. ‘Fresh fruit has quite a bit of sugar too – some are better than others, including avocado and blackberries, while bananas are high.’ And others can be pretty acidic (think citrus and apples), so snack wise, perhaps go for rice cakes, a piece of cheese, vegetables or bread sticks that’ll still give him energy. Image: Corbis
But if you can’t…
If you do serve up fruit, best for your child to have it with a meal. ‘The idea behind this is that the whole sugar attack on his teeth is done in one go, so then his saliva can start working to neutralise it,’ explains Karen. Without getting too scientific, this is basically about getting his mouth and teeth back to a neutral PH.
Limit the sugar
So, things like sweets and sugary drinks will attack his teeth. ‘Also be aware of products with more sugar than you’d expect – tomato ketchup for example,’ says Karen. ‘In fact, tomato-based sauces are often sweetened because they can be quite bitter, so it can be a good option to make your own where you control the sugar content.’ Image: Corbis
Another way you can help this neutralisation process along is by giving your child something less acidic after a meal or snack to balance the PH out a little – so a piece of cheese or glass of water. Image: Corbis
Use a straw
Try and give him milk or water between meals and, if you want to go for something fruit-based at dinner, dilute juice or squash – and find a straw. ‘Drinking through one means the liquid has less contact with his teeth,’ says Karen. When he’s finished the meal, take the drink away if you can so he doesn’t keep drinking it – it’s that same idea about having fruit with the meal so the whole attack is done in one go.
Don’t brush after a meal
It may seem the obvious choice to clean his teeth straight away, but wait an hour before doing it. ‘The enamel on his teeth is already loosened by eating, so brushing too soon will weaken it even more,’ says Karen. If waiting this long after breakfast isn’t do-able on a hectic morning (that’s every day, then), Karen agrees the next best option is brushing before the meal.
Choose the right kit
When it is time to get the toothpaste out, you want to do it twice a day for at least a minute or two – think small circular motions and a smear of toothpaste instead of a pea or blob. ‘Up to the age of three, use one that’s 1000 parts fluoride per million of paste, which will be marked on the tube. We’ve also tested some and given them our smiley face logo as a seal of approval,’ says Karen.
Hone your technique
And while your toddler may not be keen on the whole brushing thing, it’s important so persevere. ‘We recommend you supervise this until your child’s seven years old, so you do a bit, then he does a bit, and so on,’ says Karen. ‘Doing it in the bath can work, or sit on the floor with him in front and facing away from you – so it’s the angle at which you’d brush your own teeth basically.’ Have a special toy he just gets to hold while cleaning, or try an app such as Disney Magic Timer to encourage him. Image: Corbis
Go to the check-ups
Regular dentist visits are free until he’s 18 or 19 (depending on whether he’s in full-time education) so take advantage of them. ‘Around every six months based on what your dentist advises,’ says Karen. ‘It can help to take him to your own check-ups from a young age so he becomes familiar with what happens at an appointment.’ Image: Corbis
If he does need a filling…
It depends on the size and where it is in your child’s mouth – whatever happens, your dentist will work out the best route and make things as toddler-friendly as possible. ‘If the issue is small, he may actually suggest not doing a filling and just to keep brushing so the tooth can re-mineralise,’ says Karen. Otherwise, some dentists use entonox (laughing gas) to relax your child and stop him being put off the dentist in the future. Image: Corbis