So many of our dental habits are passed on through family generations and it can be difficult to keep up to date with how best to take care of your child’s teeth. Grandma’s advice, although well intended, might actually be doing your kids’ teeth more harm than good! Here we take a look at some of the most common oral health myths for children to help you make informed decisions.
Myth #1 – Sugary treats are ok as long as your child brushes their teeth straight after
Parents often mistakenly think sugary treats are acceptable as long as children brush their teeth straight after, as they believe they’re removing all traces of sugar. However, brushing straight after eating or drinking is actually the worse time to do it. This is because tooth enamel, the hard outer layer of your teeth, becomes soft from acids and the brushing action can wear away this enamel. Over time, enamel can become worn away which can lead to sensitivity and discolouration.
It’s best to wait at least an hour before they brush their teeth, as this gives their saliva the time it needs to neutralise acids in the mouth and for their enamel to re-harden. It can be helpful to give your children a small piece of cheese after meals or, if they are old enough, sugar-free chewing gum which helps to neutralise acids.
Often a habit passed on from parents to children, many children rinse their mouths after they’ve brushed, especially if they don’t like the minty taste of their toothpaste. However the whole family should just spit the toothpaste out after brushing and never rinse. Rinsing washes away all of the protective fluoride found in toothpaste and it’s important that the fluoride coats the teeth and continues to protect tooth enamel against tooth decay long after they’ve finished brushing.
If your child dislikes the minty freshness of their toothpaste, there are many other milder flavours on the market that might suit their tastes – just ensure it contains the recommended level of fluoride for their age group.
Myth #3 – It’s ok to let them drink milk in a bottle throughout the night
It can be difficult to wean young children off their night feeds, especially if they’re tricky sleepers, and some parents will put their children to bed with a bottle of milk to sip on throughout the night to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep. Try to avoid doing this as the lactose found in cow’s milk and many baby/toddler formulas is a type of sugar and can put children at risk of tooth decay when sipped throughout the night. This effect is increased at night because we produce less saliva when we sleep which is needed to help protect against tooth decay. Instead, offer your child water during the night and over time they will hopefully wake up less often wanting milk.
Myth #4 – Bedtime snacks are helpful for a peaceful bedtime routine
The bedtime routine can be a battle in many households, and it’s not unusual for some parents to offer soothing hot chocolate, flavoured milk or biscuits to encourage their child to go to bed. Rather than sending children off into a peaceful sleep however, these sugar-laden snacks could be wiring them with energy and coating their teeth in sugar right before they go to sleep! This could contribute to tooth decay during the night. If you do offer your children these snacks, ensure you do this well before bedtime, at least an hour, to give their teeth a chance to recover from the sugar before you brush them.
Myth #5 – Fluoride is harmful to children
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral which is found in water (in varying amounts depending upon where you live) and other foods. It has proven benefits to protect against tooth decay, which is why it’s added to toothpaste, some drinking water, and offered to some children in the form of varnishes.
Fluoride is essential for strong, healthy teeth and is very safe. All adults and children are advised not to swallow too much fluoride toothpaste as it can cause tummy aches and other digestion problems. Regular intake of too much fluoride can also cause ‘fluorosis’ of the tooth enamel, which looks like patches of discolouration. This is why parents are advised not to let their children lick or eat toothpaste directly from the tube, as you don’t have any control over how much they’re swallowing.
When they brush, use a smear of age-appropriate toothpaste for babies and toddlers up to the age of three, and a pea-sized blob for children aged three to six. Always encourage children to spit the toothpaste out after brushing, and don’t rinse as this washes away the benefits of the fluoride.
Myth #6 – Fruit juices and smoothies are healthy choices
Parents should start to think about fruit juices and smoothies as occasional treats, much like a fizzy drink.
Fruit is packed with a natural fruit sugar called fructose. When fruit is juiced or pureed, the fibre is lost and you’re left with a sugary liquid full of fructose. A single 250ml glass of apple juice contains around seven teaspoons of sugar, which is about the same as cola! This means that fruit juice can have the same tooth decaying effect as a fizzy drink when drunk frequently. Avoid giving fruit juice to children, but if you do, always dilute it, only give it to them as part of a meal, and never give it to them to drink out of a bottle.
Fruit juice is also highly acidic and can soften and dissolve tooth enamel. After drinking fruit juices, always make sure your child waits at least an hour before they brush their teeth.
Myth #7 – Dried fruit is a healthy snack
Children love dried fruit and no wonder when its sweet sticky texture so closely resembles jelly sweets! Essentially, dried fruit is a very concentrated form of fruit sugar (fructose) and its sticky texture means that it clings to teeth for a long time after it’s been chewed, prolonging the time the fructose is in contact with tooth enamel. This gives the tooth decay-causing bacteria found on teeth an easy meal to feed on. In terms of oral health, dried fruit is no better than jelly sweets or caramels – they can all have the same tooth-decaying effect.
Only give dried fruit to children occasionally as part of a main meal and never as a snack. It’s far better to give them the goodness of fresh fruit if they want something sweet – try lower sugar varieties such as fresh blueberries and strawberries.
Myth #8 – It doesn’t matter if their baby teeth decay
It’s common for some parents to think that baby teeth are less important because ‘they will fall out anyway’. While it’s true that children will eventually lose their primary teeth, some may not fall out until they’re around 12 years old so they do need over a decade’s worth of care.
Myth #9 – You don’t need to take your child to the dentist until they’re about to start school
It’s best to take your child for their first dental appointment when their primary (baby) teeth start to appear, which is usually around six months of age. Taking your child to the dentist from an early age helps to get their dental routine off to a positive start. They can get used to the sights, sounds and smells of a dental practice and get to know the team. Also any dental problems, such as tooth decay, can be more easily spotted and treated early on before they need more invasive treatment. Waiting until your child is a toddler could prove trickier and they may have already developed some dental problems.
Myth #10 – Bad teeth run in the family
Generally, susceptibility to tooth decay does not run in families and only a very small amount of people can attribute their poor oral health to their genes. Almost all cases of tooth decay are entirely preventable through a healthy diet, good oral health routine and regular visits to the dentist.