Oral Health for Baby, Toddler & Adult

Oral Health for Baby, Toddler & Adult

When should we start caring for babies and toddlers teeth and how? At what age can children be expected to efficiently clean teeth by themselves?

Establish a routine of mouth cleaning even before the teeth erupt into the mouth. Initially using a washcloth over your finger to wipe the gums will get bub used to the feeling of having something other than food in their mouth. It will also help remove food deposits from the gums and tongue. Try to do this around the same time of day or activity e.g. bath time to set up a pattern. When teeth appear a small, soft brush can replace the cloth.

Toddlers and preschool aged children like to test their independence, however it is important that parents continue to brush for children until their finger skills (fine motor) have developed enough for them to brush effectively. This is usually around 8 years of age. From around 18 months old a smear of baby or young children’s toothpaste should be used and kids should be encouraged to spit not swallow the toothpaste. After age 6 children you can move to using a pea-sized amount of child or youth toothpaste.

Are you noticing an increase in dental decay in your practice? If so, why?

After a decrease in the decay rates in the 1990s I’m now seeing a rise in the amount of decay to about the same as that seen during the 1980s. I find, however, that a smaller percentage of children are experiencing the bulk of the decay. Dental caries (decay) has many contributing factors including diet, lifestyle and oral hygiene.

Some parents who have never experienced decay themselves are unaware of the factors contributing to their child’s decay until they have it explained. Hectic lives, working parents and co-parenting all play a role in making it difficult to make time for supervised tooth brushing. Some parents are providing what they think is a good diet for their children without being aware of the hidden sugars and acids and how these affect the teeth. My role is less about repairing the damage and more about helping families identify and overcome the barriers to good oral health.

How often should babies, toddlers and adults clean their teeth? When should flossing be introduced to kids?

Twice daily brushing for 2 minutes in the morning after breakfast and at night before bed is the most effective routine for all ages. The night-time brush is the most important one, as it will remove the food particles built up from all the meals and snacks during the day.
Children lack the finger skills to manage dental floss by themselves at a young age however parents should floss for their children when the second baby molars are through. By the time all the baby teeth have been lost children should be flossing by themselves.

When should kids start seeing a dentist and how often should they go? What about adults?

Children should have their first visit to a dental practitioner around the first birthday. This should be a low-key orientation to the dental clinic and assessment of how effective the home oral care is. Look for a dental practitioner who enjoys seeing children.

Each child should have an individual assessment and based on their risk factors a suitable time between check-ups can be worked out. For instance a child with a specific area of concern will need to be checked more frequently than one who is deemed to be low risk.
Likewise adults should have regular check-ups determined by their risk status. It is very important for the adults in the family to set a good example for the kids by having regular dental checks and keeping up good oral care for themselves.

What are some tips parents can employ to make a visit to the dentist appealing or at least not scary for kids!

Contrary to popular belief most children are not scared of a visit to a dental clinic. They may be apprehensive about a new experience however if they have been to a clinic with an older sibling or family member previously then the clinic environment will be less intimidating. There are some great story books around about ‘My First Visit to the Dental Clinic’ that parents can find at local libraries. Even if you know the answers get your child thinking about their visit to the dental clinic with questions like “I wonder if your dental clinic will have one of those?” or “Do you think your dental practitioner will be a girl or a boy?”

Parents should avoid using negative talk when talking about the dental clinic or dental staff. The dental team will have their own way of explaining the procedures to your child however if you are particularly concerned talk to the dental staff away from the child first. It can be very hard for parents who may have a dental phobia themselves to attend with their child. In these cases it may be better for the child if they attend the clinic with another family member or friend. Refer to the dental staff as part of your child’s ‘team’ and we all have a job to do to help them keep strong healthy teeth and a beautiful smile.

What is the biggest mistake parents make when it comes to their children’s dental health? Are their any schemes to make dental visits/treatments more affordable?

I urge parents to not wait for an ache before they have their children’s teeth looked at by a professional. Often kid’s pain perception and tolerance is on a level that they will have major problems before they let their parents know about it. If caught early dental caries (decay) is reversible and therefore fillings or even extractions can be avoided. Early assessment can pinpoint where diet or tooth brushing could be improved as well as if cavities are found they are likely to be small and much easier to treat.

All states and territory governments have dental programs for children although some eligibility criteria will apply. In many cases these programs provide treatment free of charge or for a very low annual fee. For contact details and further information on these programs ask at your local community health centre, school or visit the website for your state/territory government.

The federal government introduced in 2014 the Child Dental Benefits Schedule, which provides eligible children aged 2 – 17 years with up to $1000 of dental treatment over 2 years. This entitlement can be used in both public and private dental clinics.

More information on this scheme can be gained from the Department of Health website or talk to your dental practitioner.

When do teeth start appearing for babies? When do milk teeth start to fall out? What are some good tactics for dealing with a teething Bub?

Teeth usually first appear around 8 months of age however some bubs get teeth much earlier or later. Dental professionals will look at the pattern the teeth come through in rather than just the age of the child. The average age for baby teeth to start falling out is around 6-7 years old, though this could be as early as 4 or as late as 9. At about the same time as the first baby teeth start falling out the first adult molars (6 year old molars) will appear in the mouth at the very back behind all the baby teeth. These are often a surprise to parents who aren’t aware that the adult molars don’t have a baby tooth that they replace. It is particularly important for parents to ensure these are kept healthy, as they will be with the child for the rest of their lives.

Baby teeth fall out in a pattern of the 4 front teeth at the top and 4 front teeth at the bottom around age 6-7. Then the remaining baby teeth don’t start falling out until around age 10-13. By the time their child starts high school some parents have forgotten that they may still have baby teeth present.

Some kids will have teeth pop up with no trouble while for others teething can make them miserable. Thankfully teething doesn’t last very long per tooth and usually the largest issue is the excessive drool. Some bubs also have gum redness and tenderness and may benefit from, massaging the gums, using teething gels, giving a chilled teething ring, giving cool water in a sippy cup or chilled food (depending on the age of the child). For some bubs they just need to be cuddled.

What are your top tips for getting kids to brush their teeth when they are adverse to it?

Starting early and making the experience low fuss will help to make the process easier. If parents show their kids that tooth brushing is a regular part of their routine the kids are more likely to follow. For young children use the ‘your turn, my turn’ method and try to keep it fun. Be gentle with the brush when brushing the gums using a massage circular motion. Some children enjoy listening to music or a story while brushing and music is a good way to help them time how long they brush for. Try to work out how to fit tooth brushing into the family routine and link it to other regular activities for instance brushing the teeth while in the shower.

Some kids will go through a stage where they object to having their teeth brushed however it is very important to persevere as they will usually grow out of this phase however the damage done to their teeth by the lack of brushing can affect them for a very long time to come.

When parents are brushing for the children it is easier for the parent to sit on a lounge chair and have the child lay with their head in your lap, or sit on the floor in front of you and tip their head back into your lap. This way the parents have a better view into the mouth and can hold the toothbrush much more comfortably. This is also a good opportunity for parents to have a look at their kid’s teeth to keep an eye out for any changes, which should be checked by a dental practitioner.

Make sure you praise their efforts to look after their teeth and for letting you help them.


As featured in Coles Baby & Toddler – Aug/Sept issue.

Julie Barker
Julie Barker

Founding Member Oral Health Advisory Panel, Dental Therapist

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