Oral and dental health is a matter for the whole family. Good examples and choices are small, everyday things. Getting children used to looking after their teeth from a young age, as well as setting a good example, will benefit them. Habits learnt early will stay with children, and they will learn quickly that brushing in the mornings and evenings is a part of their daily routine. The best way to protect your child’s teeth from tooth decay is to make sure their teeth are looked after well at home.
Children’s teeth should be brushed in the mornings and evenings, and children should be helped by an adult until they are at least 10 years old. Teeth should be brushed systematically, ensuring that all surfaces are cleaned. The inner, outer and masticatory surfaces of both the upper and lower teeth should be brushed.
It is important that the adult can see into the child’s mouth during brushing. The best way to see into the child’s mouth is for the child to sit in the adult’s lap, leaning against their chest, or whilst the child is lying down. New back teeth in particular should be brushed carefully, even if the tooth has not fully emerged yet. Emerging teeth are not yet complete in the way that other teeth are, and this means that they are particularly susceptible to tooth decay.
The ideal toothbrush is small and soft. Electric toothbrushes designed for children are also recommended, as they make cleaning the teeth easier and get children interested in looking after their teeth. You can buy plaque colouring pills from a pharmacy to check how well the teeth have been brushed
- The parent is responsible for looking after the child’s teeth. Teeth should be brushed even if the child doesn’t want to; children need the support and perseverance of an adult.
- Children enjoy routines
- Make brushing in the morning and evening into part of safe everyday life.
- Brush your teeth together
- This will set a good example for your child.
- Let your child make small choices
- whether to use an electric or manual toothbrush
- what children’s toothpaste to use
- what tooth to start on
- who should brush first
- Choose a place to brush that suits you both
- You don’t always have to brush your teeth in the bathroom.
Good visibility will help you to see the surface of the teeth better.
- You don’t always have to brush your teeth in the bathroom.
- Let the child practise
- Motor skills in the hand will only develop through practice.
- The adult should go over the teeth to make sure they are clean.
- Praise the child
- Even when things haven’t gone to plan.
- Use your imagination
- A game, song or story could pique interest in brushing their teeth.
- Hunt the tooth trolls or morsels of food...
- Time how long is spent brushing the child’s teeth with an egg timer.
- with a shared game
- by collecting stickers
- with a nice story time
- Teach your child to feel how clean and fresh their mouth feels – this will teach them to value a clean and healthy mouth.
Fluoride repairs damage to and strengthens tooth enamel. Brushing regularly and using an age-appropriate fluoride toothpaste will provide the necessary amount of fluoride. Dental clinics may recommend additional fluoride, if necessary. Fluoride tablets can also be bought from the pharmacy, when necessary. Appropriate dosages are stated on the package.
Toothpaste does not need to be rinsed out after brushing. Spitting out any excess toothpaste, when the child has learnt this skill, is sufficient.
Small children may not yet be able to spit out any excess toothpaste; this will not prove harmful, but for this reason it is important to follow guidelines on how much toothpaste to use. Fluoride recommendations are available here (in Finnish).
Regular mealtimes help to maintain good oral health. A suitable rhythm for meals is 5–6 times per day, avoiding any extra snacks. It is recommended that introducing sweets and treats is left as late as possible, and if and when they are introduced, their consumption should be limited to mealtimes. Instead of having a day when children are allowed sweets, allowing a treat after a meal once a week is recommended.
Sugary products spoil the appetite and reduce the proportion of a person’s diet made up of more nutritionally balanced foods.
The key sources of added sugar for children are sweetened milk products, such as yoghurts, sweetened drinks and juices, sweets and chocolate, pastries, breakfast cereals, desserts and sweetened cocoa.
Corn-based snacks, rice cakes, crisps and raisins are not recommended as they can cause long-term acid erosion.
Juices, fruit juices, flavoured sparkling waters, traditional home-made juices and ‘light’ juices are harmful to teeth. These kinds of drinks are acidic and many also contain a lot of sugar.
Get your child into the habit of drinking water – water is the best drink for thirst.
Long-term and continuous use of a dummy or bottle can have a harmful effect on occlusal development and increase the risk of tooth decay. Children should be weaned off dummies as early as possible. Try to remove the dummy when your child is a year old, but at the latest two and a half years old. Long-term use of dummies or thumb sucking almost always leads to an open bite of the front teeth. If the dummy is given up early enough, the open bite usually rectifies itself.
Using a dummy for a long time can also cause a crossbite at the sides, and this can rarely be fixed without orthodontic treatment.
Long-term, continuous breastfeeding on demand may increase tooth decay in early childhood, especially if brushing is neglected or the child is eating unhealthily.
Gradually parting with the dummy
- Limit use of the dummy. Agree on situations in which the dummy can be used. Try to get to the point where the dummy is only used at bedtime, until eventually this can be stopped, too.
- No dummy when talking! Tell the child that you can’t understand what they are saying when they have the dummy in their mouth.
Keep the mouth occupied
- Talk, ask questions, let your child drink water through a straw, blow soap bubbles.
- Offer a privilege such as a big child’s bed, chair, cutlery etc. instead of the dummy.
Gifting the dummy
- Give the dummy away. Package it up and ‘gift’ it to a baby squirrel, bunny or chick, for example. At Christmas the dummy could even be given to Santa to take for one of the baby elves.
- Let the child swap the dummy for a fun toy. You can also agree with the salesperson that the toy the child has chosen can be ‘paid for’ with the dummy.
- Out of sight, out of mind. Make the dummy ‘disappear’. If the child is missing it, divert their attention to something else.
- The dummy fairy, a relative of the tooth fairy, swaps dummies for fun toys.
- Cut off the top of the teat. When the child complains about it, tell them that the dummy is broken and suggest throwing it away.
- Hold a big kid party, crowned with a ceremony where the dummy is given up.
Regular use of xylitol helps to prevent caries bacteria not only from taking hold but also from causing decay of children’s teeth. Only use a small amount initially, as overuse can cause stomach upsets. Pastilles are recommended for young children, but chewing gum can be provided when the child has learnt to chew without swallowing. Ending meals with xylitol chewing gum or pastilles is a good idea.
Regular oral health check-ups for children should be carried out for children of 1, 3 and 5 years old, by a dental nurse or oral hygienist. You will be sent a reminder to book an oral health check-up when your child is 1, 3 and 5 years old. You will need to book the appointment yourself. A public health nurse will assess the child’s oral health during child health check-ups both when the child is six months and two years old.