As parents, it can be hard to strike a balance between keeping your kids healthy and allowing them a treat. We know all too well that fizzy drinks, sweets and sugary snacks can harm our children’s teeth, but are our ‘healthy’ alternatives actually as healthy as we think?
A recent survey by Public Health England has revealed that one in eight three-year-olds is suffering from rotten teeth. And guess what the culprit is… fruit juice!
Although fruit juices are often seen as part of a healthy childhood diet, the sweet drinks are now being blamed for children’s tooth rot. In some English regions, including Leicester, as many as a third of children were found to be suffering from tooth decay. In Hillingdon, West London, 25% of children had tooth decay, while 29% in Charnwood, Leicestershire had the same problem. When you consider that some fruity drinks contain as much sugar as a glass of Coke, it’s no surprise!
As a result of the survey, Sandra White, director of dental health for Public Health England, has urged families to restrict children to milk and water. This isn’t the only way in which you can help to protect your child’s teeth though. Here are five handy tips for keeping your toddler’s teeth in tiptop condition.
1. Make an early start
The earlier you start caring for your child’s teeth, the healthier they will be as they develop. Some parents like to clean their baby’s gums with a soft, wet washcloth before any teeth even appear, while the NHS recommends that you start as soon as the first tooth breaks through. They also advise using fluoride toothpaste containing at least 1,000ppm fluoride, to get a head start on preventing decay – just a smear on a special infant toothbrush is enough.
Between the ages of three and six, you can start using a pea-sized blob of toothpaste, but fluoride levels should still be kept low to prevent harmful effects. 1,350 – 1,500ppm is recommended.
2. Brush like an adult
While the amount of toothpaste you use to brush your child’s teeth varies from the amount we adults might use, you should still brush with an ‘adult’ technique – twice a day, for two minutes. You should also discourage rinsing after brushing, as the water can wash away the decay-fighting fluoride contained in the toothpaste.
3. Teach them the fun way
There will come a time in your child’s life when they will need to start brushing their own teeth. This is usually around the age of seven or eight, but if they’re ready earlier, then let them show their independence. Whatever age your little ones start brushing on their own, however, it’s a good idea to supervise them now and then, to check that they’re doing it correctly.
So how exactly can you teach your children to brush on their own? A great way is by letting them hold the tooth brush, before guiding their hand with your own so they can learn the correct movement. Another idea is to brush in front of a mirror, so your child can see exactly where to guide their toothbrush, and to use a fun timer that counts down the two minutes.
4. First tooth, first dental appointment
The Manchester Evening News recently published a discouraging report about a number of dentists refusing to take on children as new patients. Don’t let it put you off though – take your child to their first dentist appointment as soon as their first tooth appears. That way, their oral health gets a head start, and they’ll grow up to be much more comfortable with dental visits.
5. Avoid snack time nasties
As you can see from above, sneaky sugary fruit juices have become a big problem for our children’s teeth. This is particularly true for very young children, who are given fruit juice in sippy cups or baby bottles that they continue to suck after the juice has vanished, directly exposing their teeth to sugar for longer.
However, this doesn’t mean that sugary things should be outlawed. They make a nice occasional treat, and shouldn’t be given as regular rewards. Snacks should consist of things like carrot sticks and raw fruits, where the sugar is less concentrated, and things like toast, rice cakes and plain popcorn. When it comes to day-to-day drinks, stick to water and milk.
Even rotten milk teeth can cause problems long after they have fallen out, harming the gums and making youngsters’ teeth more prone to infection in later life. Take these tips on board, however, and you will be well on your way to protecting your children’s precious little teeth.
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