What you need to know about taking care of your toddler's teeth

Milk is a better option than juice for toddlers.

Your baby's primary teeth are already present in their jaw at birth. At around six months they start to appear, and most kids will have a full set by the time they are three. These teeth are responsible for your toddler's adorable smile – so you want to make sure you take the best care of them!

Here's what you need to know about taking care of toddler teeth.

Setting a good example early

Eating habits and dental care routines start early, so children should be shown a positive example by their families. 

Brushing twice a day can begin as soon as the first teeth appear and you can teach flossing as soon as there are two teeth touching each other. Teaching good habits while your child is young can help reduce dental problems later in life. 

A great way to make sure these habits stick is to make it fun – play games, give them colourful toothbrushes, maybe even reward them with the odd (sugar-free) treat!

Eating habits and dental care routines start early, so children should be shown a positive example by their families.

Oral health problems in toddlers

Baby teeth may eventually fall out, but that doesn't mean taking good care of them isn't important. These teeth play an important role in biting, chewing and speaking. 

Early childhood caries can cause speech problems, difficulty sleeping, pain and the danger of decay in permanent teeth. Because of these risks, it's important to start taking good care of your child's teeth as soon as they appear. 

The good news is that tooth decay is almost entirely preventable in baby teeth. 

Nutrition and snacking

Young children tend to snack often, as they have high energy requirements but small stomachs.

A lot of foods geared towards kids are high in sugar – fruit drinks, biscuits and cereals are often considered snacks. However, not only do these foods fail to provide adequate nutrition most of the time, they can also contribute to tooth decay.

Choosing the right snacks for your toddler can play a huge part in keeping their teeth healthy. Much like oral hygiene routines, children learn about food from their parents, so getting them off to a good start is important. 

The best snacks for your toddler are typically high in protein, such as cheese. Raw vegetables are a nutritious option and can help boost saliva production, which helps protect teeth. Yoghurt, hard boiled eggs, peanut butter sandwiches and popcorn can also make great snacks. 

It's best to avoid foods that are sticky or chewy as they could get stuck in their teeth and expose them to prolonged acid attacks. Dried fruit and fruit roll ups are prime culprits.

If you do give your child sweet food or snacks, it's better to eat them with a meal. For the same reason, children should eat snacks at regular intervals, rather than grazing constantly throughout the day, to prevent frequent acid attacks on teeth. 

Drinks are also guilty of contributing to early childhood caries. Fluids are important, but fruit juices, cordials and soft drinks should be avoided most of the time. Water or milk are the best options for toddlers. 

Teaching good snacking habits can help keep your toddler's teeth healthy. Teaching good snacking habits can help keep your toddler's teeth healthy.

Proper cleaning

Teeth are at risk of decay as soon as they appear. You should start cleaning your child's teeth twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste as soon as their first teeth come through. 

For children under six years of age, a smear of toothpaste on their toothbrush is recommended.  It is better to use a small amount of an adult-strength toothpaste, rather than a child-strength one as these might not contain enough fluoride, according to the Ministry of Health. Make sure the inner, outer, and chewing surfaces all get a good clean, as well as the gums. A small, soft-bristled brush is ideal.

You should make sure your child brushes their teeth just before bed and encourage them to spit, but not rinse – this will help the fluoride to stay on their teeth for longer, giving them a chance to get the full 'renewal' benefits of the mineral. 

Dental check ups are a preventative measure alongside healthy eating and proper brushing.

Professional care

Dental check ups are another preventative measure alongside healthy eating and proper brushing. Regular dental visits are key to preventing dental problems in early childhood and later in life. 

From the beginning, show your children that visiting the dentist is a positive experience. Explaining how important the dentist is to good oral health and fostering a healthy attitude toward dental visits could help set your child up so that they maintain regular visits throughout their life, and reduce the chances that they experience anxiety. The first visit is usually between their first and second birthday. 

Kiwi children who meet the eligibility criteria are entitled to publicly funded oral health care. This covers routine examinations, X-rays, fillings, cleanings and extractions. 

For expert dental advice, get in touch with our friendly team.