Who can forget that thrilling moment when the first teeny pearly white pops up on the bottom gum? Now it’s down to you, mums and dads, to keep decay and the dreaded dentist drill at bay by following these tips.
As soon as your wee one has teeth and can hold a brush, give him one to play with and bite on, says pediatric dentist Dr Agnes Roze of Dr Nicolas and Asp. Let them watch you brush your teeth – they’ll enjoy copying you and it will help instill the habit. Proper brushing really only starts when they’re two-and-a-half to three years old, when all 20 baby teeth have come through. ‘Use a very soft brush with a little head and a handle that’s easy to hold. Always start with the back teeth, make small circles and move towards the front, making sure you brush all sides of the teeth,’ says Dr Roze. ‘Kids should brush very gently. There’s no need to be overly vigorous. Plaque is very soft.’ Some kids may gag, literally, so don’t force them.
Let them have a go then you finish off, perhaps making a game of counting their teeth. Basically the more brushing the better, although the bedtime routine is most important with sugars and acid making a serious assault on teeth overnight. Avoid any food or drink after this brush, or, even worse, letting your child sleep with milk in a bottle or cup. By age seven, kids should brush independently (but it’s vital parents check those new grown-up teeth are done properly) and, ideally, spend two minutes on the process. Look out for brushes that play a two-minute tune or flash until it’s time to stop. Store brushes upright and replace them every three months, when the bristles become bendy or following a bout of illness. For now, you can forget flossing. It’s just too difficult and may deter them from doing it later in life.
Toss the toffees
Most of what’s bad for the body is bad for the teeth. Foods to avoid include the obvious sticky sweets – lollipops, toffees and the like – while biscuits, crisps and sugary cereals that stick to the teeth should also be eaten in moderation. ‘We have to be realistic, so if you have a few crisps with your meal or the occasional sweet, follow it up with brushing,’ says Dr Roze. Take a drink of water with chewy fruits, like raisins and dates, to rinse out the sugar, and make sure kids get plenty of calcium-rich, teeth-friendly foods such as cheese, yoghurt and milk. Hard fruits and veggies such as carrot sticks and apples encourage biting and chewing and boost saliva, which helps to wash away that nasty plaque, but try to avoid all-day snacking as this keeps the acidity in the mouth high, slowly dissolving the enamel and causing decay.
Go to the dentist
While we grown-ups may associate the dentist with screechy drills and pain, it doesn’t have to be that way for your child, which is why they should pay their first visit around their first birthday. There won’t be much poking around, but it will get junior used to the experience. Any youngster in Dr Roze’s chair is immediately distracted by oversized toothbrushes and stuffed animals with wide toothy grins. ‘The first visit is a game,’ she says. ‘We want to show kids that we’re not scary, so we do everything on the puppet first. We never dive straight into the kid’s mouth.’ The idea is, if kids spend 10 minutes brushing a puppet dinosaur’s teeth, they’ll have no qualms about hopping into the dentist’s chair themselves, plus they’re having fun and learning to brush properly. Your children (and you) should visit the dentist every six months.
An anxious parent equals an anxious child, so put aside your own fears and trepidation and never use the dentist as a threat. Avoid phrases like, ‘Don’t worry, it won’t hurt’ – they will just draw attention to the possibility of pain and your child probably won’t believe you anyway.
Fluoride helps prevent or even reverse early stages of tooth decay, but too much can damage the teeth. So how do you strike the right balance? Dr Roze says kids aged two and over should use proper kiddie toothpastes because they’re made with kids’ fluoride needs in mind. Don’t use toothpaste at all until your child is capable of rinsing and spitting, otherwise they may be ingesting too much. Once they’ve turned two, a thin layer of toothpaste on the brush is fine. UAE water, unlike in some other countries, does not have fluoride added, although some bottled water has fluoride added or offers extra minerals. Dr Roze recommends checking with your dentist before switching to fluoride water and says for kids aged two and over, brushing with a fluoride toothpaste should be enough. A fluoride mouthwash (available from most pharmacies) is a good option from when they’re around six years old.
Suck on this...
You have a thumb-sucker or a tot who won’t give up his dummy for love nor money. Should you start saving now for expensive orthodontics in 10-12 years’ time? Dr Roze says not to worry, at least not until they’re five years old. ‘For both pacifiers and thumb-sucking, if they stop by the time they are five, it will be OK,’ she says. ‘When the adult teeth start coming through, the shape of the upper jaw should, in most cases, go back to its natural position.’ Dr Roze considers thumb-sucking to be marginally worse than a pacifier in terms of teeth damage, simply because it’s more difficult for a child to kick the habit.
Make an appointment to see Dr Roze at Dr Nicolas & Asp in Jumeirah. Call 04 394 7777, or visit www.nicolasandasp.com for other locations.