Teaching Kids About Healthy Teeth

Brushing Teethwith Dr. Philippa Sawyer     Dental health experts fear Australia’s complacency towards oral health is reaching epidemic proportions with a recent report revealing most Australians adults (along with their children) choose to avoid the dentist despite having serious dental health issues. 


The ADA Oral-B Power Report conducted among 1,010 Australian adults was jointly commissioned by Oral-B and the Australian Dental Association, Australia’s national dental body, in an effort to find out more about Australians’ attitudes to dental health and encourage the improvement of oral health in Australia. 


The report findings revealed some shocking issues particularly around the number of people who choose not to visit the dentist. The majority of those suffering prefer to simply grin and bear the pain rather than visit a dentist. Yet what people fail to realise is the cost of ignoring regular dental health checks may actually cost much more in the long term.  By taking a preventative approach to their oral health such as scheduling regular checkups people can help minimise the risk of having to have serious and potentially costly dental work down the track.


According to Dr Philippa Sawyer, Oral Health Committee Chairwoman of the Australian Dental Association (ADA), Australia’s indifferent attitude towards dental health is not only impacting negatively on the nation’s oral health, but is clearly having  a  knock on effect when it comes to the future of our children’s dental health.


“What is particularly alarming is that in the last year, over one in three parents with a child suffering from a dental health issue delayed taking their child to the dentist, or admitted that they didn’t take them at all, and one in ten parents admitted they only take their child to the dentist if they have a serious problem.”


Dr Sawyer concedes the findings were alarming but not surprising. “Unfortunately we are seeing a substantial increase in the number of children with serious dental health problems such as chronic tooth decay that could have been averted if parents were informed of preventive measures earlier in the child’s life.” 


“Toddlers are just as much at risk of dental decay as an older child or adult and what may have started as a small cavity can quickly turn into a serious problem,” Dr Sawyer continued.


Dr Sawyer also believes there is a need for greater public awareness and education about the impact dental health has on our long term overall health.  The ADA Oral-B Power Report found Australians do not understand the health effects that can result from poor oral health with the majority of Australians believing that oral health issues start and finish in the mouth. 


Dr. Sawyer offers these tips for parents:


1.  Your child's first visit to the dentist should be earlier than you think.  

Dr Sawyer recommends a child’s first visit to the dentist should be within six months of the eruption of the first tooth, or by the child’s first birthday, however Dr Sawyer says most parents don’t bother taking their child for a dental check up until around three years of age or older.  Many parents delay taking their child until there is a serious painful dental problem requiring emergency care. This is not the ideal introduction to dental health professionals.


2. Make brushing enjoyable

Very young children (0-2 years)

Young children only need to have their teeth brushed once a day but can be difficult for brushing. It is important to make it fun if possible by singing songs or making it a counting game. Some days it will make no difference and it is just one of those things that must be done, like changing their nappy or washing their face. They may not always be very cooperative or helpful but eventually they understand that it must be done.

Wrapping them in a towel is quite helpful or placing them on the baby change table with their head towards you. Distraction is useful in the form of music mobiles or a toy to hold. Two tooth brushes is a good idea; one for them to chew on and one for you to brush with without the ‘shaggy dog’ bristles. Young children react very well to a daily routine and will be better behaved when they anticipate what is coming next in the ‘going to bed sequence’.

Older children (3+years)

Older children will often wish to take control, be independent and brush by themselves. It is important to finish off for them every night until the age of 8-9 years as the manual dexterity to do an adequate job is not developed until then. They will do a great deal of brushing but not necessarily in the right places.


3. Establish a good dental routine

Brushing  Twice daily brushing is essential, with adult supervision and ‘hands on’ help at night time before bed.  However, brushing more often than this may contribute to abrasion of the enamel in the long term.  Small, soft-headed brushes work best for children and there are power toothbrushes designed specifically for kids.

Flossing  Flossing is important, but it is often hard to get kids to do it.   A floss holder is a great help and so are disposable ‘flossettes’. Oral B do a ‘Hummingbird’ for flossing which works well. Parents can be a good role model and floss their own teeth every night.

Dental Rinses  Mouthrinses are effective if used at a time other than when the child brushes and must be used for the manufacturer’s recommended duration of rinsing. They should contain fluoride but not alcohol. Most fluoride mouthrinses contain less fluoride than toothpaste so will effectively decrease the concentration of fluoride delivered to the teeth if rinsing is done after brushing. After lunch or afternoon tea is a good time to use a fluoride mouthrinse.


4.  Educate your kids about the importance of diet

Overall, Dr Saywer reinforces the importance of diet in preserving good oral health.  “Diet plays a critical role in maintaining healthy teeth for life, with rising decay rates in children related to changes in dietary patterns as well as fewer children drinking fluoridated tap water in favour of sugary processed foods and drinks including bottled water. 


5. Educate your kids about the importance of oral hygeine

What should we tell our kids about effects of poor oral hygiene? Poor oral hygiene can lead to tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath. It can also have an effect on the health of the rest of the body. Poor oral hygiene can lead to stained teeth, bleeding gums and bad breath which can effect a child’s social interactions.


6. What if your child is worried about stained teeth?

This has become increasingly popular as media stars show off their bleached white teeth. It is difficult for children who have stained or darker shades of enamel as they can be teased by other children regarding their oral hygiene.  Bleaching is safe for children from around 10 years of age but should be done under the supervision of a dentist who has appropriate knowledge of the options available and the precautions that should be followed for children and adolescents.


7. Set a good example

The best thing parents can do is to set a good example themselves.  By instilling good brushing habits, scheduling annual dental checkups for the whole family and adopting healthy eating and drinking habits they will help put Australia’s dental health on track.



Dr Philippa Sawyer is the Oral Health Committee Chairwoman of the Australian Dental Association (ADA).



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