Ask the Dentist: Establishing good tooth-brushing habits in kids saves teeth and trauma

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast, says getting children into a good tooth-brushing routine early will stand them in good stead throughout life

It’s more important to give very young children a good experience when tooth brushing than getting the teeth spotless
Lucy Stock

INCREASINGLY dental practices are taking phone calls from distressed parents who are dealing with a child crying in pain from toothache. Many of these children are often too young or too scared to be treated in a dental practice and what they really need is a general anaesthetic to remove the tooth, which can only be done in a hospital.

The parent asks for alternative ways to remove the tooth – unfortunately there are just no magic treatments that dentists have up their sleeves. Specialised community dentists can help in certain circumstances but more often than not the child is referred to hospital for treatment and left to wait in pain for months until there's an appointment.

Hospitals are already stretched, with more people needing treatment and with a quarter of five-year-olds having decayed teeth before they start school, it's unrealistic to expect everyone to be treated immediately.

One of the ways to avoid this scenario is to help your children keep their teeth cavity free. An important part of this is to encourage tooth brushing twice a day every single day, starting from when the first tooth grows in.

A small bit of effort amid all the other normal family pandemonium to get the children's teeth brushed twice a day will pay off hugely in the long run. Once you have established brushing after breakfast and last thing before bed children tend to adopt these habits throughout adulthood.

The key to making brushing a habit is to start early. Try putting a tiny amount of toothpaste on some gauze on your finger and wiping it on your baby's teeth twice a day. That way, they will find a toothbrush more acceptable.

Getting a small amount of fluoride on to the teeth is crucial – it prevents and controls tooth decay. For toddlers, if they chew the brush don't stress too much: it's more important to give them a good experience when tooth brushing than getting the teeth spotless at this stage. You may even want to create a playlist of your kids' favourite songs for toothbrush time.

There are also lots of toys and dolls available that come with their own toothbrush, all designed to encourage kids to brush. You may want to read some tooth-brushing books with your child. Clarabella's Teeth, The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist and I Know Why I Brush My Teeth are all great books for children.

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