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Parenting -- Dental care for preschoolers

Key points

  • Children should have regular dental check-ups every 6-12 months.

  • To prevent tooth decay, brush teeth twice a day and avoid sugary foods and drinks.

  • Use low-fluoride toothpaste unless a dentist advises otherwise.

Children’s teeth development

Children’s baby teeth can arrive in any order, although the lower incisors are often first, followed by the upper incisors. The first molars are usually next, followed by the canines and second molars.

All 20 baby teeth usually arrive by the time children are 3 years old.

Dental care: keeping children’s teeth clean

Brush your child’s teeth twice a day – morning and night. Use a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste on a child-size toothbrush, unless your dentist recommends otherwise.

Your child might want to start helping to clean their own teeth. You can let your child hold the toothbrush and try brushing their own teeth first. This will help your child feel they’re part of the action. After they’ve had a go, you can finish and make sure that all tooth surfaces are brushed properly.

Also encourage your child to rinse their mouth with water after lunch and snacks. This helps to wash away any leftover food.

Your child needs your help and supervision with keeping teeth clean until they’re about 8 years old.

Just keeping teeth clean isn’t a guarantee against tooth decay – diet is also important. Avoid giving your child sugary foods and sugary drinks like fruit juice, soft drink and flavoured milk.

The best way to brush children’s teeth

You might like to try the following routine when brushing your child’s teeth:

  1. Stand or sit behind your child so your child feels secure. Brushing teeth in front of a mirror is good too, because it lets you see your child’s mouth.

  2. Cup your child’s chin in your hands, with their head resting against your body.

  3. Angle the bristles of the toothbrush towards the gum. If you’re using a manual toothbrush, move the brush in gentle circles. If you’re using an electric toothbrush, move the brush gently across the teeth.

  4. Brush the outer and inner sides of the teeth and along the gumline. Brush along the chewing surfaces of the teeth.

  5. Gently brush your child’s tongue.

  6. After brushing encourage your child to spit out toothpaste, not swallow it. There’s no need to rinse after brushing because the fluoride toothpaste left behind protects your child’s teeth.

Children are more likely to go along with cleaning teeth if it’s fun and part of a daily routine. For example, you can sing ‘This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth’ while you’re brushing. Or you could pretend the toothbrush is a train, saying ‘Toot toot chugga chugga’ as you move it around your child’s teeth.

Toothbrushes: choosing and keeping them clean

Choosing a toothbrush It’s important to choose a toothbrush designed especially for children aged 2-5 years. These toothbrushes have small oval heads, soft bristles and non-slip, cushioned handles. They also often have cartoons and fun designs on the handle, which your child might like.

Electric and manual toothbrushes are equally good, as long as you use them properly to clean all the surfaces of all your child’s teeth. If you’re deciding between a manual and an electric toothbrush, it’s OK to let your child choose.

Keeping the toothbrush clean After cleaning your child’s teeth and gums, rinse the toothbrush with tap water. Store the toothbrush upright in an open container to allow it to air-dry.

You should replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months, or when the bristles get worn or frayed.

Cleaning and caring for children’s teeth early on sets up good dental habits for life.

Fluoride and dental care

Fluoride is a mineral that keeps teeth strong and prevents tooth decay. Fluoride is safe and works best when your child gets it in very small amounts throughout the day in:

  • toothpaste – your child can using a low-fluoride toothpaste from 18 months.

  • tap water – most tap water in Australia has added fluoride.

  • foods containing fluoride, like fruit and vegetables.

Visiting the dentist

At this age, children should visit the dentist regularly. Talk to your dentist about how often your child needs a check-up. Dentists usually recommend every 6-12 months.

Regular dental check-ups give your child the chance get to know the dentist. They also give you and your dentist a chance to talk about your child’s dental health needs and plan your child’s dental care.

Your child might also see other oral health professionals, depending on your child’s needs. These include dental therapists, dental hygienists and oral health therapists or specialist dentists like paediatric dentists.

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