When should I take my child to the dentist?

It is recommended that children go to the dentist with their parents as soon as possible. You should then take them regularly, as often as your dentist recommends. This will let them get used to the noises, smells and surroundings and prepare them for future visits. The earlier these visits begin, the more relaxed the child will be.

When will my child's teeth come through?

First or ‘baby' teeth have usually developed before your child is born and will start to come through at around 6 months. All 20 baby teeth should be through by the age of two-and-a-half.

The first permanent ‘adult' molars (back teeth) will appear at about 6 years, behind the baby teeth and before the first teeth start to fall out at about 6 to 7. The adult teeth will then replace the baby teeth. It is usually the lower front teeth that are lost first, followed by the upper front teeth shortly after. All adult teeth should be in place by the age of 13, except the wisdom teeth. These may come through at any time between 18 and 25 years of age. All children are different and develop at different rates.

How should I clean my child's teeth?

  • Cleaning your child's teeth should be part of their daily hygiene routine.
  • You may find it easier to stand or sit behind your child, cradling their chin in your hand so you can reach their top and bottom teeth more easily.
  • When the first teeth start to come through, try using a children's toothbrush with a small smear of toothpaste.
  • It is important to supervise your child's brushing until they are at least seven.
  • Once all the teeth have come through, use a small-headed soft toothbrush in small circular movements and try to concentrate on one section at a time.
  • Don't forget to brush gently behind the teeth and onto the gums.
  • If possible make tooth brushing a routine - preferably in the morning, and last thing before your child goes to bed.
  • Remember to encourage your child, as praise will often get results!

Should I use fluoride toothpaste?

Fluoride comes from a number of different sources including toothpaste, specific fluoride applications and perhaps the drinking water in your area. These can all help to prevent tooth decay. If you are unsure about using fluoride toothpaste ask your dentist, health visitor or health authority. All children up to three years old should use a toothpaste with a fluoride level of at least 1000ppm (parts per million). After three years old, they should use a toothpaste that contains 1350ppm to 1500ppm.

You can check the level of fluoride on the packaging of the toothpaste. You should supervise your children's brushing up to the age of 7, and make sure they spit out the toothpaste and don't swallow any if possible.

What sort of brush should children use?

There are many different types of children's toothbrushes. These include brightly coloured brushes, ones that change colour, ones with favourite characters on the handle, and some with a timer. These all encourage children to brush their teeth. The most important point is to use a small-headed toothbrush with soft, nylon bristles, suitable for the age of your child.

Teaching your child how to brush on their own

As your child gets older, they don't want Mum or Dad standing over them in the bathroom to make sure they're brushing properly. Teaching them how to brush effectively - including those hard to reach areas - will set them up for life and will help spare them tooth decay, fillings and, of course, bad breath - especially important as they head towards their teens!

When brushing your teeth, always start and finish at the same point. That way you know when you've done the job properly. With a pea sized blob of fluoride toothpaste on the brush, start with the top set back teeth and make small circular motions with the brush, moving gradually around to the other side of the mouth.

When you get to the last tooth, bring the brush round and do the same with the inside of the teeth. This is often the part that people forget, but it's also likely to be where bacteria and tartar (calculus) - the hard stuff that the dentist scrapes off the teeth - will occur, so make sure you brush properly. Then do exactly the same with the bottom set.

What could cause my child to have toothache?

Toothache is painful and upsetting, especially in children, and the main cause is still tooth decay. This is due to too much sugar and acid, too often, in the diet.

Teething is another problem which starts at around 6 months and can continue as all the baby teeth start to come through. If your child needs pain relief, make sure you choose a sugar-free medicine. Remember to check with the doctor or pharmacist that you are being prescribed sugar-free medicines at all times. If the pain continues then contact your dentist for an appointment.

How can I prevent tooth decay in my child?

The main cause of tooth decay is not the amount of sugar and acid in the diet, but how often it is eaten or drunk. The more often your child has sugary or acidic foods or drinks, the more likely they are to have decay. It is therefore important to keep sugary and acidic foods to mealtimes only. If you want to give your child a snack, try to stick to vegetables, fruit and cheese. Try to limit dried fruit as it is high in sugar and can stick to the teeth.

It is also worth remembering that some processed baby foods contain quite a lot of sugar. Try checking the list of ingredients: the higher up the list sugar is, the more there is in the product. Sometimes, on labels, sugar is called fructose, glucose, lactose or sucrose.

Thorough brushing for two minutes, twice a day, particularly last thing at night, will help to prevent tooth decay.

What if my child is very nervous about going to the dentist?

Children can sense fear in their parents, so it is important not to let your child feel that a visit to the dentist is something to be worried about. Try to be supportive if your child needs to have any dental treatment. If you have any fears of your own about going to the dentist, don't discuss them in front of your child.

Regular visits to the dentist are essential in helping your child to get used to the surroundings and what goes on there. A child can be much more anxious if it is their first visit to a dental practice. Pain and distress can happen at any time and it is important to prepare your child with regular visits.

Common Problems

Packing a healthy lunch box

When your child goes off to school, you want to be sure that they've got everything they need. And one of their most important pieces of kit is their lunchbox, or rather what goes in it.

It's tempting to put in chocolate bars and bags of crisps, but it's much better for your child's teeth to avoid these. But just because you keep it healthy, doesn't mean it has to be boring. Fresh fruit salads, bottles of water with cartoon characters on, sandwiches cut into interesting shapes - all of these are easy to do and they won't cost a fortune either. The current national standards are as follows:

  • one portion of fruit and one portion of vegetables
  • one portion of milk or dairy item
  • one portion of meat, fish or other protein source
  • one portion of a starchy food, such as bread, pasta or rice

Protecting teeth against sports injuries

Going to school often means getting involved in contact sports, like football or rugby. These sports can be just as dangerous to the teeth as the shins or ankles, so you need to protect them. Your dentist will be able to fit a special mouthguard that will help protect the teeth from high tackles, poorly aimed shots at goal and flying hockey sticks.

Because the mouthguard is specially fitted for your child's mouth, it will offer more protection than something bought off the shelf. Remember, though, that as your child grows, they'll grow out of their mouthguard, so make sure they take it with them when they go for check-ups to ensure the best possible fit.

When accidents happen

Accidents happen, especially if you're playing contact sports. If your teeth get knocked out, there is a chance that they can be put back in by a dentist. Simply follow these steps:

  • Hold the tooth by the part usually visible in the mouth, not by the root. Don't scrub the tooth or place it in disinfectant.
  • If the tooth is clean, hold it by the white part (the bit that is usually visible) and, making sure it's the right way round, gently push it back into its socket.
  • If the tooth is dirty, rinse it in milk or cold water before gently pushing it back into place.
  • Hold the tooth in place by biting on a handkerchief and go to the dentist immediately for advice.

If you can't put the tooth back in, try this:

  • Place it in a cup of milk or, if not available, keep the tooth in the mouth between the cheeks and gums.
  • Don't let the tooth become dry and don't put it in disinfectant.
  • Go to your dentist immediately. If this isn't possible, contact NHS Direct to find out your nearest Accident & Emergency department that has a dentist on call.