How to help your kids practise good oral hygiene without feeling like you’re pulling teeth
Cleaning little teeth can be difficult, can’t it?
That daily stoush over the bathroom sink can become a contest for the ages. But believe us when we say it’s worth every painful argument with your fierce and independent little one. 1cb5ae
Cleaning their teeth matters.
Queensland Health reports that 55% of the five- to 14-year-olds who use their services had tooth decay. Sadly, 24% of them had four or more teeth showing decay.
It doesn’t need to be this way.
We’ve compiled our top tips for keeping little teeth in tip-top condition little teeth, including the least painful ways to encourage brushing and how to help your kids maintain great oral health.
But before we get into those, let’s look at what free dental care for kids is available.
Medicare delivers free dental for kids
Medicare offers the Child Dental Benefits Scheme (CDBS), which provides free dental care for kids (up to $1,000 over two years).
If you have kids aged 4-17 (or 18 in some cases) and you receive Family Tax Benefit Part A then you should be eligible. You can learn more about your eligibility and what’s covered at Services Australia.
Keep in mind that not all dentists perform their work at CBDS prices, so it’s best to ask what out-of-pocket expenses you can expect. Be reassured that at Keppel Dental, for most procedures, we complete work at the CBDS cost. (It doesn’t cover them all, unfortunately.) And if there’s a gap, we’ll let you know before going ahead with treatment.
We’re always pleased to see families come in using their entitlements from the CDBS. Anything that encourages lifelong healthy teeth is a big winner in our books.
Free dental for kids is helpful, but what about at home?
Now, we know that getting your kids to a dentist isn’t always easy. And no amount of free dental care for kids will ever replace great oral hygiene habits at home. So here are some important things you can do for your child (and encourage them to do for themselves as they get older) to keep their teeth in great shape.
Don’t wait too long to visit your dentist
You should start brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as the first one erupts. Use a soft brush with no toothpaste until they’re around 18 months old. When their first tooth arrives, you can bring them in for their first appointment to talk about:
- brushing techniques
- habits such as thumb sucking
- their bite (how your children’s teeth come together)
- preventing traumatic injury to your child’s mouth
- the risk of decay and how to prevent it
- nutritional advice.
You can also floss as soon as two of their teeth are touching. And we’ll show you the best technique at your first appointment.
The main purpose of this first dental visit is for you to learn exactly how to keep those little teeth in good shape.
Brush twice a day for two minutes
As your child grows into a strong-willed toddler, teeth-cleaning time gets harder. They know exactly what they want and don’t want, and won’t hold back on letting you know.
Parents, we get it.
But the reality is that if teeth aren’t brushed regularly tooth decay sets in, which brings about a host of painful problems—including tooth removal in extreme cases.
Find a routine for your family that creates good lifelong habits. You could turn teeth cleaning into a fun game, or find a video of their favourite TV character brushing their teeth. There are lots of examples out there, and it’s a great use of screen time.
However you make it work, keep it going for two minutes twice a day. And make sure you brush their gums as well as their teeth.
You should also occasionally check for signs of decay by lifting their lips (top and bottom) and checking for white patches. These are the early warning signs of decay, and can be reversed. Brown, grey or black spots mean more serious decay has set in.
If you see any signs of decay, book an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
Stay involved and help them brush until they’re about seven or eight
You’ll need to help your child brush their teeth to make sure they’re brushing properly.
While every child is different, they can usually be trusted to brush their own teeth by the time they’re seven or eight. But even then, it’s a good idea to supervise. As their carers, it’s our job to help them keep their teeth healthy until they’re mature enough to do it themselves.
Use the right sized, soft-bristled toothbrush for their age
To help your baby get used to dental care you can wipe over their gums twice a day with a soft cloth. But once they have their first tooth, you need to start brushing with a toothbrush. Make sure it has soft bristles, as anything firm will be too harsh on the tooth enamel.
From 18 months of age, you can use fluoridated toothpaste. Squeeze out a pea-sized amount, and try to avoid them swallowing it as you brush.
We recommend using soft-bristled brushes even into adulthood. They clean just as well, and won’t contribute to overbrushing. (Read our article about overbrushing if you’d like to know more.)
Encourage a healthy diet that’s tooth friendly, and limit their sugar intake
Twice-daily brushing and flossing isn’t enough to avoid tooth decay and further dental care. Whether you qualify for free dental care for kids or not, keeping those chompers chipper means your child will spend less time in the treatment room.
After regular brushing, the most helpful thing you can do is to limit your child’s sugar intake, especially sticky foods such as lollies (which stick in the crevices on the surfaces of teeth). But keep in mind that even savoury foods can have surprising amounts of sugar. Processed foods (even the healthier ones) such as snack bars, muffins and yoghurts often contain more sugar than you think.
Familiarise yourself with food labels and the recommended levels of sugar per serving. A little tip: look at the amounts per 100g so you can compare food types and brands.
Of course, we all know young children love their snacks. If you do give your child a snack, try to stick to meal times and limit grazing. Choose unprocessed food such as vegetables, lean meats and cheeses. Starting with these foods as they begin eating solid food can help them maintain a healthy diet through the picky toddler years.
Another big contributor to tooth decay is sugary drinks such as concentrated juices, cordials and soft drinks. Avoid these when you can and choose water instead.
The benefits of a balanced healthy diet go well beyond avoiding tooth decay and extra visits to the dentist’s chair. It also helps them develop strong and healthy teeth from the get-go.
Make sure they wear mouthguards when they start playing sport
The Australian Dental Association (ADA) recommends everyone (kids, teens and adults) wear a custom-fitted mouthguard made by a dentist when playing sports.
Mouthguards absorb and spread the impact of knocks to the face. Without them, the same knock could injure your child’s mouth or jaw. They should be worn at all times, whether training or on game day.
Don’t just take our word for it. In conjunction with Sports Medicine Australia the ADA has developed a Mouthguard Policy, which you can find out more about on the ADA’s website.
Of course, accidents happen. And when they do, your child’s mouth and teeth may get injured.
If this happens, try not to panic. A calm, informed response can reduce the risk of your child’s teeth being permanently damaged. And familiarising yourself with dental first aid will help you stay in control and respond in the best way possible.
Before an accident occurs, it’s worth knowing two things: whether you can access free dental care for your kids, and whether your kids are already registered with your local dentist. That way you can come in knowing the cost won’t be a barrier. Having said that, remember that certain procedures aren’t included in the CBDS. It may be worth finding out what is and isn’t included now, while things are nice and calm.
Time for your tiddlers to have a check up?
Looking after your child’s teeth can feel a little overwhelming at times. It’s yet another thing that needs to be added to the parenting to-do list. But persevering with good oral hygiene at home and taking them to your dentist regularly will stand your child in good stead as their teeth mature.
If you need any help or advice, or want to talk about accessing free dental care for your kids at Yeppoon or Rockhampton, give us a ring on 07 3130 0806. We’re happy to help.