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Oral Health for Babies and Toddlers: We Talk to the Expert

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Teeth brushing for toddlers – everything you need to know!

As mamas, we know how important it is to brush our toddler’s teeth everyday (not matter how painful it can be!). But how long should you brush for? What type of toothbrush should you be using? And can you even use toothpaste? To answer these questions we spoke to the lovely, Dr. Amanda Wong of Orange Orthodontics to find out more about teeth brushing for toddlers.

At what age should I start brushing my baby’s teeth?

You should introduce the concept of brushing your baby’s teeth long before their first tooth appears. It’s best to start from around 4 months of age by cleaning your baby’s gums. The easiest way to do this is to use a clean, damp washcloth and rub the gums very gently. You can also use a soft rubber finger brush (you can buy these at most baby stores) that are great for cleaning your baby’s new teeth while massaging their gums.

Once your baby’s teeth have erupted sufficiently, you can start using a soft toothbrush for 0-2 year olds. Brush your baby’s teeth twice a day so they can form a good teeth-brushing habit.

When should I start using toothpaste and what type of toothpaste should I be using to brush my baby or toddler’s teeth?

This topic often creates much disagreement – even amongst dentists, and probably needs an article on its own!

My advice is to start using a children’s fluoridated toothpaste as soon as you start using a toothbrush for your baby. For 0-2 years of age, just dip a few bristles into the toothpaste so that you have a small speck (half a grain of rice) on the brush. After the age of two, a thin smear will be sufficient.

Brands like Elmex (European) and Elgydium (UK) have great children’s toothpastes. They contain a small amount of fluoride that takes into account the fact that your child is likely to swallow some of it.

You may now be mortified (please don’t be!) and are thinking to yourselves, “Fluoride for my baby? Won’t that be harmful?” The answer to that is yes and no. Of course, too much fluoride will definitely harm your baby. However, a small amount of fluoride is still important because it helps reverse the decay process and re-mineralize the teeth. By the time your child is two years old they may already have cavities that cannot be reversed with fluoride alone.

By using a small speck of fluoridated children’s toothpaste, you will help avoid problems like fluorosis (permanent white or brown spots on adult teeth) or even fluoride toxicity (caused by ingesting a large amount of fluoride all at once – so keep the toothpaste out of their reach!) while still protecting against decay.

When should I start taking my baby or toddler to the dentist?

Ideally you should bring your baby to the dentist around the age of one. However, not many babies are mentally ready for a visit to the dentist, so I generally tell parents to bring their children in when they are ready (but definitely by the time they are two years of age!).

Don’t be discouraged if your child gets upset and refuses to lie on the chair.  Continue with regular six monthly check-ups and hopefully your dentist will eventually win them over!

Always be on the look out however for anything suspicious (like black or brown spots on their teeth) and get it checked straight away — regardless of your baby’s age.

How do I know if I am cleaning my toddler’s teeth well enough? It’s a battle just to get the toothbrush near his mouth!

The easiest way it to know if you’re cleaning your toddler’s teeth properly is to look. If there is anything that looks like cottage cheese on the teeth, yellow staining or he has red gums that bleed easily; you’re not cleaning your child’s teeth well enough.

Another test I often suggest is to use your fingernail to gently scrape the surface of one tooth. If you see a white, soft substance on your nail, there is still plaque on your toddler’s teeth.

What’s the best technique for brushing my toddler’s teeth?

The ideal method is to sit your child down and standing from behind, get them to open up. Using gentle circular motions, brush the front surface of their teeth, ensuring you’re brushing right up to the gums. Don’t forget the back teeth either (often it’s easier to get them to close their mouth slightly so you can reach their back teeth). Using the same gentle circular motion, brush the inside surface of all the teeth and gums. Finally, brush the chewing surfaces back and forth.

Realistically, it is more likely that you will be dealing with an angry octopus who has suddenly super-glued their mouth shut! Firstly, try to make brushing their teeth fun. You could get them to copy you, make up a game for brushing their teeth, get a timer they can watch while brushing, or even (as last resort) let them watch television while you brush – just use a bib! Once you get that toothbrush in there, brush every surface you can get that toothbrush on! Focus particularly on cleaning up to the gums and all the way to the back. Once your child is happy to have their teeth brushed, use the ideal method mentioned above.

My toddler still has milk before bed – should I brush his teeth before or after he has his bedtime milk?

It’s very important to always brush your toddler’s teeth after milk. The main reason for this is that milk, even breast milk, contains sugar. These sugars act as “food” for the bacteria in the mouth, which then feed on the sugar and produce acids that cause tooth decay. Overnight there is a reduction in salvia levels, thereby affecting the body’s natural ability to neutralize the acid produced! If your toddler needs something to drink before bed, only give them water.

PICDr. Amanda Wong is as a general dentist at Orange Orthodontics. With a passion for working with children of all ages (and even adults!) Amanda is also a mama to a little girl. Originally from Adelaide, South Australia, Amanda has been enjoying life in Singapore for the past four and a half years. You can contact her at +65 6737 0544 or head to the website (but be warned — Amanda is new to the Orange Orthodontics team so is not on their website just yet!).

Top image sourced from shutterstock

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