7 ways to protect your child's oral health
Tooth decay - although largely preventable with good care - is common in children.
Around 31% of children starting school and around a third of children aged 12 have visible tooth decay, according to the NHS.
Neglecting baby teeth is not the only error parents can make when it comes to their child's early oral health, so here is a seven-step plan.
1. Start oral care early
Your child should see a dentist regularly, starting as early as possible once their baby teeth start to appear, according to the British Dental Health Foundation.
All children under the age of 18 are entitled to free NHS dental care. Starting preventive care at an early stage saves money later in life, and possibly pain for the child.
2. Teach the brush and floss habit
Dental visits are just part of the plan, of course. Tooth brushing is also crucial from the start. A lot of people think they don't have to brush baby teeth. If your baby has even one tooth, it's time to start tooth brushing. If there's just one tooth, you can use gauze.
Even before your baby has teeth, you can gently brush the gums, using water on a soft baby toothbrush, or clean them with a soft flannel.
Once there are additional teeth, parents should buy an infant toothbrush, which are very soft. Brushing should be done twice daily using a fluoride toothpaste.
Also ask your dentist's advice about when to start using mouthwash.
So, how long will it be until your little ones can be responsible for brushing their own teeth? The British Dental Health Foundation encourages parents to supervise their child’s brushing until about the age of seven.
During dental visits, ask your dentist if your child's teeth need fluoride protection or a dental sealant.
3. Avoid "baby bottle decay"
For years, doctors, health visitors and dentists have been warning parents not to put an infant or older child to bed, or down for a nap, with a bottle of juice, formula or milk.
The sugary liquids in the bottle cling to baby's teeth, providing food for bacteria that live in the mouth. The bacteria produce acids that can trigger tooth decay. Left unchecked, dental disease can adversely affect a child's growth and learning, and can even affect speech.
Experts say that if you must give your child a bottle to take to bed, make sure that it contains only water.
4. Control the sippy cup habit
Bottles taken to bed are not the only drinks problem. The other one is fruit juice given during the day as a substitute for water and milk.
Often, that juice is in a sippy cup, which is meant as a transition cup when a child is being weaned from a bottle and learning to use a normal cup.
Parents mistakenly think that fruit juice is a healthy day-long choice for drinking, but that is not the case. Prolonged use of a sippy cup can cause decay on the back of the front teeth if the beverages are sugary.
Sugary drinks and foods should be limited to mealtimes.