Itís not easy being a parent. We all know this. Thereís just so much conflicting information out there, it feels as though no matter what you do there is going to be someone claiming that your choices make you a bad parent. But when it comes to dental care, itís shocking just how easily some of the most innocuous things we do can be having an adverse effect on our childrenís teeth. Luckily, all it takes is the right information to rectify these simple mistakes.
Did you know that last year in the UK, more than 1200 toddlers were admitted to hospital with rotten teeth? It doesnít mean their parents were neglectful, or that they went for days at a time without so much as glancing at a toothbrush. In a huge percentage of these cases the cause of tooth decay was something far more simple: fruit juice.
Fruit juice? Surely not! But Iím afraid itís true. We all know how bad for your teeth, among other things, processed food, sugary drinks like cola and lemonade are, but did you know fruit juice can be just as damaging? While itís true that juice contains less harmful ingredients than soft drinks, what people often forget is that fruit is largely composed of sugar. In itís natural form, fruit sugars arenít a problem, as fruit contains other important things such as fibre and nutrients. Not only that, but fruit generally fills you up before you are able to consume a harmful amount of sugar. Itís when this natural product is refined into juice that problems arise. The re-constituting process removes all of the fibre and a lot of the nutrients from the fruit, but leaves behind all of the sugar. Not only that, but as itís in liquid form, a much larger amount can be consumed comfortably. What this results in is a far larger than is safe consumption of sugar.
For young teeth, this can be extremely damaging. Especially when parents fill their childís bottle with fruit juice, and then allow them to drink from it overnight. The sugar is able to act upon the teeth without any form of protection. That the child might have brushed their teeth before going to sleep that night becomes largely irrelevant.
Luckily for us, this is a very easy problem to rectify. Simply avoid fruit juice, and stick with milk or water in your childís bottle. If they need a bottle to sip on overnight, then water is the only option worth considering, as it doesnít contain any naturally occurring sugars that can break down enamel over the sleeping hours. Milk, while extremely nutritious and not as intensely sugary as fruit juice, still contains lactose, or milk sugar, which can be bad for teeth. Stick to milk during the day, and water at night. Save fruit juice for meal times, when teeth can be brushed soon after. Avoid soft drinks and cordials all together. Health professionals recommend no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day in a healthy adult diet, and that number falls to just three teaspoons for young children. Fruit juice is included under the label ďadded sugarĒ by the World Health Organisation, so you should take into account how much juice your child drinks when considering their sugar intake.
While added sugar is the biggest danger for young teeth, it isnít the only thing that can be harmful. Another more overlooked threat is excessive thumb or dummy sucking. Now donít panic, thereís no need to run over to your child and rip the dummy out of their mouth just yet. Most children will naturally stop sucking their thumbs between two and four years old, and up until these ages there wonít be any negative effects. Itís when thumb sucking persists after six years of age that problems like buck teeth can arise. The pressure caused by thumb sucking can slowly force the front teeth out of their natural position. If this is too extreme, they may get in the way of a childís speech, causing a lisp. In this case expensive corrective orthodontics may be required. Obviously it would be preferable to avoid this, so making sure your child has let their old habits go by an appropriate age is important.
Something that should never be overlooked, but which often is, is proper toothbrushing technique. Most people donít think twice about how they brush their teeth, they simply do it automatically. But proper technique can be the difference between having a mouth full of pearly whites or a set of chipped and stained headstones. Brushing technique for babies and toddlers is very different from children and adults, so itís important not to be confused about how to go about ensuring your baby's oral health.
A babyís teeth should start to appear by around six months, but before this you can use a damp piece of gauze to help keep their gums clean. One the the teeth appear, the best technique is to use a small brush designed for children under 18 months, and brush the teeth gently with plain water. Do not use toothpaste with in children under 18 months, as at this age the teeth are still underdeveloped and sensitive. Fluoride toothpaste will do more harm than good. Specially formulated, low-fluoride toothpaste can be used after 18 months, and from four years old the child should begin to learn to care for their own teeth.
At two years old, itís time for the first dentist visit. Not only will this let you rest assured that youíve been following the correct procedure, but they can also potentially identify any signs of future dental issues, and advise you as to possible solutions.
Parenting can be a minefield of advice and contradiction. Figuring out who you should listen to when it comes to your childís health can be nerve-wracking, not least because the decision is so important. Dental health can be a tough thing to keep on top of, but though your kids may whine about having to brush every night, be heartened: eventually theyíll thank you!