5. If you suspect decay, act quickly
Pain, sensitivity to hot, cold or sweet food and drinks; and pressure sensitivity, are all signs of tooth decay, warns Marlon.
Dental decay, an infection of the tooth caused by bacteria, will continue to get bigger and spread from tooth to tooth if left untreated.
If you suspect tooth decay or have noticed white-spot discolouration (a precursor to decay), it’s important that restorative work is done as soon as possible, regardless of your toddler’s age.
6. Stay on the job
Toddlers and young children don’t have the manual dexterity to brush properly. You’ll have to supervise and/or brush for them until they are at least six years old, though it’s preferable to stay involved for as long as possible, says Janet.
Also, make a mental note to watch out for the eruption of your six-year-old child’s molars. These are their first permanent molars and need to be brushed with great care if they are to see your child through their lifespan.
7. Serve meals and snacks with water
Some foods ‘feed’ decay forming bacteria more than others. Carbohydrates – from wholesome carbs like cereals and high-fibre crackers, to high-sugar foods such as chewy sweets, cookies and cake (that offer a lot of refined sugar with very little nutritional value) offer bacteria a veritable feast.
The potential for tooth decay increases considerably when these foods stick to our teeth, because the acid-producing bacteria then remain on the tooth surface for a long time, causing those areas of the tooth to decay.
Nonetheless, wholesome carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet, so offer him water when serving snacks like bread, crackers, pasta and dried fruit. The water ‘dilutes’ the acidity and can dislodge stuck food. Nibbling on some hard cheese after a meal also helps ‘push’ sticky food matter from the teeth, advises Alisha.
As for the tough, chewy sweets, opt for chocolate instead at weekends or treat-times only, followed by water.
8. Drink juice through a straw
Fruit juices and other sweetened juices, especially fizzy drinks, contain both acid and sugar – a particularly nasty combination for teeth that causes rapid demineralisation of the tooth structure. It’s best to completely avoid offering these drinks in his bottle, especially before he goes to sleep at night, advises Janet.
Also, if only water isn’t viable, then opt for a straw when drinking juice, because it shortens the time that the teeth are exposed to sugar and acid.
9. Frequent snacking can cause cavities
Imagine a long car ride: first on offer is a bag of chips. This is followed by dried fruit at the next squawk, and then fruit juice just before a full-blown tantrum erupts. Finally, before your little one nods off, he tucks into some crackers and a fruit roll. This continual ‘grazing’ constantly feeds the acid-producing bacteria that cause tooth decay and is ultimately worse for your baby’s teeth than the occasional sugary treat.
It’s the frequency of sugar and carb snacking that causes more damage to teeth than the volume of sugar consumed, explains Janet. So offer fresh vegetables, dairy and lean protein snacks like nuts and turkey, more frequently than starch or sugar.
To combat sweet grazing at parties, brush his teeth before and after.
10. It’s all in the technique
Brushing properly is more important than brushing for a long time. Make sure you brush all the surfaces of the teeth – top, front and behind.
Tips for taming toothbrush wars:
- Start early by cleaning your baby’s gums with gauze. It can make it easier to transition to tooth-brushing.
- If your baby won’t let you brush his first teeth, then try using tooth wipes until he becomes more comfortable with an oral hygiene routine, suggests Marlon.
- Babies love to imitate. Let them watch you brush your teeth. Model fun and enjoyment.
- Let older toddlers choose their own toothbrush.
- Choose a toothpaste flavour that your child likes.
- For older toddlers, try a toothbrush hunt prior to tooth brushing. Turning the activity into a treasure hunt with a prize of pearly whites can diffuse a fight.