Dental Care For Children: A Guide To Healthy Teeth For Kids

A mother feeding her baby with milk

What are the rules of a good toothbrushing session?
For babies, aim to brush each tooth back and forth at least three times and use a smear of children’s low-fluoride toothpaste with the smallest infant toothbrush you can find. As your babies grow into toddlers, they are going to want to do it by themselves. Make sure to brush their teeth again after they have had a go at it.

Most kids would have developed the dexterity to brush their own teeth when they reach 7 years old. Teach them a system to take them through a lifetime of good toothbrushing: Start by brushing the outsides of the upper teeth, then the insides, then the tops of the upper teeth, before doing the same for the lower teeth. If they do this right, it should take at least two minutes. Remember – like adults, children should brush their teeth twice a day – once in the morning and once before bed.

Electric toothbrushes: Yay or Nay?
If your dentist feels that your child is doing a good job of toothbrushing, (as confirmed by your dentist), an electric toothbrush is probably  unnecessary. An electric tooothbrush may however help a child who’s struggling to brush well or who simply doesn’t like brushing their teeth.

What is the major culprit of tooth decay?
In the Singapore, the most common dental problem affecting our children is bottle decay. This is when a child has developed the habit of falling asleep with a bottle of milk in the mouth. This leads to cavities quickly developing in almost all their teeth! Parents are advised to never resort to this, no matter how much they want their baby to fall asleep.

Any tips for parents to get their kids to brush their teeth more?
Keep your babies distracted with during screen time with a song or a toy to reinforce the importance of this time positively. For the older kids, make toothbrushing a family activity or use a reward system. Sometimes, truthfully grossing them out by telling them that germs eat their teeth or poop in their mouths while they sleep; if they do not brush well before bed could be the best motivation for them to start looking after their oral health.  It takes a different method to inspire each child when it comes to promoting good oral care habits. Sometimes all it takes is a toothbrush with a favourite character, different flavoured toothpastes or a powered toothbrush to make things more exciting.

Dr Wong’s secret weapons for keeping kids cool, calm and collected
“A lot of times, kids don’t know what to expect at the dentist, so I use the Tell-Show-Do technique to ease them in. First I tell them what I am about to do- for example, blow air on their tooth; I show them how I’ll do it by blowing air across their arm – if you do it right it should tickle a little bit. Finally, I blow air on the tooth – warning that it might tickle a little bit too. Plenty of praise, encouragement and playing cartoons on the overhead TV also help keep things light and playful.”

The first trip to the dentist: what to expect
There are two main purposes for starting a child on visits to the dentist at an early age. One of the purpose is so that any risk of detrimental oral problems can be treated or prevented early. The other and perhaps the more important of the two main purposes, is so that the child gets familiarised with the dentist; so that he will not resist future needs for dental care. The American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry recommends that parents take their children for their first dental visit when the first tooth appears, or by the first birthday at the latest. The first trip involves a quick examination and a chat about your child’s eating and toothbrushing habits.

How can parents prepare their child for the first visit?
Avoid the words ‘pain” and “hurt” at all cost – even saying ‘it won’t hurt’ places negative connotations into your children’s heads. Instead, say that you’re taking them to the dentist, who will count their teeth.

What’s the most important thing parents can teach kids about caring for their teeth?
Make toothbrushing a really strong habit and something that your kids will never skip, no matter how tired they are.


Author: Dr Paul Wong