First visit to an oral health professional
What many parents don’t realise is that emerging baby teeth need to be looked after as carefully as we look after our own teeth. As well as their obvious importance for chewing and speaking, they help proper jaw development, and reserve the spaces for the permanent teeth to come through later.
Dental decay can result in babies losing teeth as early as 12 months. A condition called “nursing caries” can result from allowing baby to suck on a bottle of milk or sweetened juice for long periods during the day, or last thing at night. If a bedtime bottle is needed, use cooled boiled water instead (or cooled boiled water after the bedtime bottle of formula).
Children in New Zealand are entitled to free basic oral health services from birth to 17 years of age (until their 18th birthday). It’s important to enrol your child as early as possible into the service, so that you can arrange the first check-up.
Your child’s first visit will usually be between their 1st and 2nd birthdays. Dental staff will let you know the time of your appointment once you enrol. It’s easy to enrol - just call 0800 TALK TEETH (0800 825 583).
Caring for baby's teeth:
- Start cleaning when teeth appear. Gently wipe with a clean damp cloth at bath time.
- Progress to a small soft bristle toothbrush with water. (There are special brushes available for babies.)
- Hold baby sitting against you facing the bathroom mirror so they can see their teeth being cleaned.
- Let baby play with their toothbrush while they watch you brush your teeth. (It takes years for them to learn how to brush.)
- Start using a pea-sized amount of low fluoride children’s toothpaste only when they have learnt to spit things out from their mouth.
- Limit amount of sugary foods in diet.
When should I first visit an oral health professional?
Children should have their first dental checkup at 1 - 2 years of age. You can also visit your child and family health nurse for dental checks. Before this time, it’s good to take them along with you to the dentist when you have your checkups, so they get used to the environment. What the oral health professional will look for:
- The number of baby teeth and their spacing and placement
- How effectively teeth are being cleaned
- Any changes in colour, or spotting of teeth, signifying early decay. About 20% of children have a type of decay called “nursing caries”, often related to dietary and feeding habits (particularly use of a night time bottle).
How long do baby teeth last?
- The front teeth will last until age of 5 – 7
- The back molars have to last until about 12 years of age. (Dentists advise having a protective plastic coating, or fissure sealant, applied to the molars at around 7 years.)
Your attitude can help
Be relaxed with your children when talking about the dentist. Be careful not to use any negative words, and be sure not to pass on any feelings of fear or anxiety which you might have. Your positive attitude can help a lot. After all, going to the dentist these days can be lots of fun!
Caring for kids' teeth
- Help your children brush their teeth twice a day. They need your help until they’re about 6 years old, and have the manual skills to do a proper job themselves.
- When brushing, use a special children’s toothbrush, small with extra soft bristles.
- Always use gentle pressure, as brushing too hard can damage the gums.
- Use a junior strength toothpaste until they’re about six. This has a mild flavour, it’s low foaming and lower in flouride if they swallow it by accident.
- Teach them how to rinse and spit, so they don’t swallow the toothpaste.
- Night time brushing is the most important, so don’t be tempted to let your children have a snack in bed. A bottle, a glass of milk, or even an apple, can undo all your good work.
- Try not to give too many snacks between meals — and when you do, encourage savoury ones, like fruit and raw vegetables.
- When you serve fruit juice or cordial, it is best to give it well diluted. It is also good to give it with some food rather than by itself, because the saliva produced from chewing will help to get rid of the sugar and neutralize the acids causing decay.
More articles on first teeth:
More toddler firsts:
- Recipes for toddlers
- Toddler nutrition
- Moving to a big bed for the first time
- Solving tantrums
- Toilet training tips and tricks
- Resolving problems
- Activities for toddlers
- Toddler grooming tips
- Toddler development
- Toddler first steps
- Toddler teeth and dental care
More childhood firsts:
This article was written for kidspot.co.nz and includes information from health.govt.nz
Last revised: Sunday, 14 September 2014
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.