Tooth Decay in Children
Tooth decay in children starts with the interaction of three critical factors:
Sugar + Bacteria + Time
Reducing each of these factors is something that can be achieved with a bit of knowledge, time and effort.
1. Reduce the frequency of sugars in your child’s diet.
Many people think that it is the amount of sugar that is damaging to teeth.
It is actually the frequency of carbohydrate intake is the factor most strongly associated with the development of decay. Lots of little sugar hits during the day does far more damage than eating that same amount of sugar once per week (and then brushing your teeth!).
Carbohydrates that can cause decay include added or free sugars and refined complex carbohydrates.
For more info on which carbohydrates cause decay, see our article here
2. Help brush your child’s teeth twice daily.
Brushing should start from the first appearance of teeth, twice daily.
Plaque is made up of bacteria, that excrete acids as part of their food cycle. These acids eat away at the tooth surface and result in the holes we know of as decay. Brushing off this almost invisible, very sticky film of plaque will ensure that minimal bacteria are present on the teeth to start decay.
Regardless of their independent spirit, children from 6-8 years do not yet have adequate fine motor skills to brush effectively. They still need help from a parent at least once per day (preferably at the night-time brushing) with adult strength toothpaste.
For info on how much toothpaste to apply, see our article here
We recommend helping your child past the age of 8 years for as long as you think they’re not removing plaque effectively.
An electric toothbrush will help you and your child. We recommend electric toothbrushes from as early as your child will tolerate. I started brushing my son’s teeth with an electric toothbrush just before he turned 2, and it made a big difference to his cooperation (and my sanity…where was the warning about toddler toothbrushing?!).
For more info on electric toothbrushes click here
Children shouldn’t be expected to remember all by themselves to brush twice per day and may need consistent reminding to get them into the habit.
Children would often rather be doing anything besides brushing. They are busy, easily distracted and have many other fun things to do. Think about a positive reward system and a brushing chart to keep track of any times that are being missed.
Very young children often find brushing unpleasant and can sometimes be quite willful in resisting attempts to brush their teeth. Do not underestimate how much this will test your patience and resolve! Keep persisting and you’ll come out the other side with a child who has toothbrushing as a regular part of their routine.
3. Reduce the time for plaque to cause damage
Brush away bacteria (plaque) 2 times per day. If left any longer than 10-12 hours they’ve invited all their nasty friends to crash the party and start doing damage.
Don’t leave check-ups for too long! 6-monthly check-ups come around very quickly in the busy life of a parent, but it is a long time in the life of a tooth under stress from sugars and plaque acids.
Dentists have an eye for catching decay early. Acid damage shows up long before a hole can be recognised by a parent.
Early decay is reversible.
Check-ups every 6 months from the age of 1 year will help us identify problems early. Application of concentrated fluoride every 6 months reduces the risk of tooth decay in children.
Being able to come to the dentist and have a fun, simple visit every 6 months ensures a positive view of dentists.