Taking care of little smiles
Your Baby’s Teeth – Smart ideas for great dental health with Smileyeileey!
Eileen McGlinchey (BSc Dental Practice Management & Oral Health Promotion) explores the dental issues among babies and children in Ireland and provides advice on how we can avoid early tooth decay with our families.
When it comes to dental health, there are some simple steps that every parent can take to help keep your baby smiling.
Recent reports indicate thousands of children, some as young as 18 months, are having teeth extracted in Ireland because of teeth damaged beyond saving. From my experience as a dental nurse in practice and in delivering oral health workshops to pre-schools and national schools across Ireland, tooth decay is becoming ever more prevalent. It’s especially worrying to see it happening at an increasingly younger age; as soon as I see the little smiles in the classroom, the decay is apparent.
A 2015 study by the Irish Dental Association found that some 10,000 extractions were carried out every year – and that most of these were due to too much sugar in diets, according to Dr Richard Lee Kin, director of the Oral & Dental Health Symposium 2017. Dr Anne Twomey, vice-president of the Irish Dental Association warns that extractions can be just the start of the problem, rather than the solution: "Having teeth extracted can cause so many problems. After they’ve been pulled, the holes close up and when the permanent teeth come down, they can do so in bizarre ways, even through the palate, and often they need significant orthodontist treatment later in life.” she comments in an article published in The Irish Times, May 16, 2017.
Dr Twomey notes that while parents are responsible for what they feed their children, some are mistakenly buying products they believe are healthy.
So how can you make the right decisions as a parent for your baby’s teeth? This is the advice that I give.
Brushing up on some healthy habits!
Instilling good oral health habits like tooth brushing (even if they only have one tooth) will benefit your baby’s teeth later in life!
- Even though your baby has no teeth, you should clean your baby's gums from birth. Products like Teething Wipes can be used.
- Brush teeth twice a day, from the first tooth.
- Use a soft brush.
- All children should have their teeth brushed by an adult until they are at least 6 years old.
- Introduce flossing as soon as your child has two teeth that touch.
- As babies, toothpaste is not needed. Water is enough to clean their teeth. From age 2+ you can use a small pea-size amount of toothpaste which help to strengthen their teeth and fight decay causing bacteria.
- When brushing, use a circular motion, brushing the entire surface of each tooth. Two minutes is the recommended amount of time that should be spent brushing.
- I don’t recommend rinsing with water after brushing - just spit as the ingredients such as fluoride in the toothpaste need a chance to work on your teeth. Mouthwash should be your final step in the tooth brushing routine.
- Brush their teeth first thing in the morning before breakfast. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you've consumed anything acidic, you should avoid brushing your teeth for at least 30 minutes. Foods containing citric acid, like orange juice weaken tooth enamel. Brushing too soon after eating them can damage the enamel in its weakened state) and last thing at night
- Introduce kids’ mouthwash as soon as your child has the sense to spit it out; this will benefit their developing gums.
- Keep your own teeth and mouth clean to show a good example.
- Don't share toothbrushes as decay causing bacteria can be spread from parent to baby.
- Make brushing a fun experience for your child. It should not be a fight to get your child to brush their teeth.
- Introduce a fun tooth brush (available on www.smileyeileey.ie). These tooth brushes both vibrate at 30 second intervals to teach your child to change to the other side of the mouth. The lights on the brush also flash for 2 minutes to encourage your child to brush for this length of time.
- I love to use music for this purpose also. Play your child’s favourite song or a tooth brushing song and only introduce it at tooth brushing time.
Make smart food choices
- Avoid sugary foods and drinks; sugar is a tooth’s worst enemy and remember, that babies are not born with a sweet tooth. Choose your baby’s first foods wisely so that they don’t cultivate an overly sweet palate.
- Never send your little one to bed with a bottle, as a baby can fall asleep with the bottle in the mouth and their teeth will sit in a puddle of milk. Even natural sugars like those found in milk cling to an infant's teeth for a long time. Bacteria in the mouth thrive on this sugar and make acids that attack the teeth.
- Water is a great choice, milk is fine too and fruit juices should only be drunk diluted and in moderation. Fizzy drinks are not recommended at all.
- When it comes to treats for your kids it’s not just the amount of sugar in food or drink that causes damage to children’s’ teeth, it’s the number of times they have sugar. So if your child is having a treat, don’t let it continue all day; otherwise the teeth are under constant attack with no chance to recover.
- Keep the sweets cupboard or cookie jar out of sight – and out of mind.
- Cut down on treat foods, but don’t ban them. Banning them makes them more appealing.
- Always think about non food treats – a trip to the park or a favourite game or toy is usually a better way to reward a young child.
- Healthy snacks can also be ‘treats’ if you make them fun: cut food into shapes or involve your child in preparing the food. i.e. making bread or picking berries etc.
Is yogurt a good choice for baby teeth?
- Dentists generally recommend foods like cheese, fruit, vegetables and yogurt for teeth, but some experts believe that yogurt is a superfood for teeth. Yogurt is very good for our gums, especially the tiny gums of a developing baby due to the presence of probiotics. According to D. Milton Stokes, M.P.H., R.D, Probiotics have long been associated with the body’s digestive system, but did you know they can prevent inflammation of the gums, which in turn will help your teething baby. Babies need healthy gums in order to have strong teeth. Gums are our teeth’s anchor.
- Yogurt is also a source of another important nutrient essential for the development of healthy teeth for your baby - calcium. Calcium not only helps the formation of these healthy, strong teeth but once the permanent adult teeth appear, this calcium will prevent tooth decay by strengthening the hard, outer layer of the tooth known as the enamel.
- Yogurt can also be a great way to get your teething baby to eat something as they’ll love the cold, soothing sensation provided by the yogurt. And since yogurt packs a lot of nutrients per gram, it’s a good way to get nutrition in on days when baby’s appetite is small or he or she is feeling a little fussy.
- While yogurt is a good choice in terms of gum and dental health, it’s important to choose the right one. Many yogurts contain added sugar and while they may appear healthy, the sugar level can render them a bad choice of snack for your little one. When we eat or drink anything high in sugar, the bacteria naturally present in our mouths produce acids that attack the tooth enamel. The stickiness of the plaque keeps these acids in contact with your teeth, and over time, the enamel can break down causing tooth decay.
- A no added sugar is the smartest choice for your baby’s teeth. I recommend Glenisk’s new No Added Sugar Organic Baby Bio Fromage Frais. It tastes great and will put your baby on the right path to a healthy smile.
Make friends with the dentist!
- Your child’s first visit to the dentist should be before their first birthday. This will help with early detection of any issues or decay which can be treated promptly.
- Becoming familiar with the dentist will help to eliminate any phobia they may develop in relation to the dentist’s being a “scary” place.
- If you wait until your child has a toothache they will always associate the dental surgery with pain. The dental surgery is a fun place and familiarising your child with this environment early will allow for stress free visits in the future.
You can find out more about Eileen Mc Glinchey and SmileyEileey's Oral Health Promotion below.
Deborah Condon. 2008. Rise in kids having teeth pulled. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.irishhealth.com/article.html?id=12984.
Dental Health Foundation Ireland. 2014. Cleaning children's teeth. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.dentalhealth.ie/children/cleaning.html.
Irish Times. 2017. Why increasing numbers of youngsters are losing their teeth. Experts offer advice on ensuring that your children’s teeth stay healthier for longer. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/parenting/why-increasing-numbers-of-youngsters-are-losing-their-teeth-1.3071563.
Joene Hendry. 2008. Yogurt may take the bite out of gum disease. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yogurt-gum-disease/yogurt-may-take-the-bite-out-of-gum-disease-idUSKIM15691020080221.
Milton Stokes, M.P.H., R.D.. 2017. Why Eating Yogurt May Help Your Gums. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.eatingwell.com/article/9551/why-eating-yogurt-may-help-your-gums/. [Accessed 1 September 2017].
Patricia Murphy. 2017. Irish children as young as 18 months having 'decaying teeth extracted' - leading dentist. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/irish-children-as-young-as-18-months-having-decaying-teeth-extracted-leading-dentist-35555236.html.
Rebecca Desfosse. 2016. Is Brushing Teeth After Eating Good For You?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.colgate.com/en/us/oc/oral-health/basics/brushing-and-flossing/article/is-brushing-teeth-after-eating-good-for-you-0313.