Think your little one doesn’t need to brush her teeth or visit the dentist before age four or five? Think again! We asked the experts to separate the facts from fiction. By Tammy Jacks
There are many stories surrounding toddlers’ teeth. We asked the experts to debunk some common myths toddler teeth myths.
Myth: I don’t need to brush my child’s “baby” teeth because they’ll fall out anyway.
Fact: Parents should start brushing their little one’s teeth as soon as they appear, says Dr Gerald Kaplan, a Johannesburg-based prosthodontist. In the early stages, teeth can be cleaned by wiping them with a gauze swab or damp facecloth. There are also various wipes on the market that can be used. As more teeth appear, your child can then start using a toothbrush. Look for a brush with soft bristles, a small head and, ideally, soft rubber around the edges so it’s gentle on the gums and palate, adds Dirna Grobbelaar, IVOhealth’s oral hygiene advisor and mom of five-year-old twin boys and a baby daughter. You could even start using an electric or sonic toothbrush from a young age. “My twins have been using an electric brush since they were two,” says Dirna. These have been clinically proven to be more effective at removing plaque than a manual brush. Plus, they are designed to make brushing fun and easy. Some brushes have a built in-timer, which helps to encourage your child to brush all four quadrants of the mouth for the full two minutes each time they brush.
Follow Dirna’s top tips for teeth brushing:
- Your child’s teeth should be brushed twice a day for two minutes each time.
- Try different children’s toothpastes and let your child choose one he prefers.
- Buy a fun electric brush like Philips Sonicare For Kids, which plays musical chimes and has interchangeable covers.
- Turn brushing into quality time with your child – sing songs, play games or use rewards.
- There are some great apps available that have been designed to encourage correct brushing.
Myth: My child isn’t at risk of tooth decay until much later.
Fact: The most common problem for children’s oral health is cavities says Dirna. By around six years old, more than 60% of South African children have cavities. Cavities are caused by bacteria in plaque (Streptococcus mutans) that thrives in an acidic environment. Eating sugary foods and drinks, such as fruit juice, makes inside the mouth more acidic, feeding these “bad” bacteria, which then eats away at the tooth’s enamel, causing decay.
Myth: It’s OK to let my child fall asleep with a bottle of milk or juice.
Fact: Bottle-feeding decay in the upper front teeth is a common problem, says Dirna. It will show as darker areas on the teeth, mostly in-between the upper front teeth and close to the gum line. This is often caused by a little one consuming too many sugary and acidic drinks over a long period of time. “It’s important not to let your child fall asleep while drinking a bottle (unless it contains water or rooibos tea with no sugar or milk),” says Dirna. Rather remove the bottle before bed and gently brush the teeth. Rooibos tea can cause staining on the outside of the tooth, but this can be polished off by an oral hygienist. Fruit juice can be bad for children’s teeth, as it contains natural sugars and is acidic. Limit juice to an occasional treat and always dilute juice with water, advises Dirna.
Myth: I don’t need to take my child to the dentist until she gets all her adult teeth.
Fact: The first visit to the dentist should be around age two, at which time all that is needed is the experience of a fun ride up and down on the dental chair, explains Dr Kaplan. Parents should stay calm and avoid showing any fear of the dentist, because this will affect the child’s experience, he adds. Regular dental visits should become routine, and fun, for children. The earlier you start taking your child, the better, as you ideally want to build a trusting relationship with the dentist and oral hygienist.
Myth: I don’t need to worry about my child sucking her thumb or a dummy until she gets her adult teeth.
Fact: Using a pacifier or bottle for long periods, as well as sucking the thumb, can cause crooked teeth, says Dirna. Don’t let your child suck on a dummy or bottle as she sleeps; rather remove it once she is asleep or calm. Ideally, children should stop sucking dummies, bottles or thumbs before the age of four – this will protect the teeth and ensure they grow straight.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .