Q&A with The Mummy Dentist
We asked Jemma from The Mummy Dentist some important questions we wanted to get to the bottom of regarding our little ones’ teeth. We definitely learnt a lot...
When should you start cleaning your baby’s teeth?
As soon as the first tooth appears! Normally the lower front teeth erupt around 6 months of age (although it can vary by a few months)
How often should you clean their teeth?
Twice a day. It’s really good to build the habit into the daily routine from the start - for both you & baby. Cleaning just before bedtime is important as when your asleep the protective saliva in your mouth dries up a bit so the teeth need cleaning and protective toothpaste overnight. So brush every night & at one other time of day.
What are the best toothpaste and toothbrush to use?
There are so many products on the market but the basics to be aware of are;
- Baby appropriate toothbrush - small head, soft bristles & easy grip handle. Most mainstream brands have suitably designed brushes. Go for a simple manual toothbrush at first, an electric one may be overwhelming for a young baby. You can always reconsider one for a toddler once they have got used to brushing or if they start refusing to brush.
- Baby appropriate toothpaste - should contain no less than 1000ppm of fluoride (it will be on the packaging). Fluoride acts topically on the tooth enamel to strengthen it and remineralise the crystals after acid attacks.
How much toothpaste should you use?
Such an important point! As babies can’t spit out excess effectively, you need to be minimal to ensure they don’t swallow it. For 0-3 years use only a FLAT SMEAR.
When should you start seeing a dentist?
The British Society for Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD) UK is raising awareness for babies to be seen by a dentist before their 1st Birthday - dental check by 1. Don’t worry if you’ve missed this marker just take them as soon as you can. It’s also a good time to go yourself before your maternity exemption runs out!
Why do babies need their teeth looking at so early? What do dentists check for?
Yes, under age 1 their teeth may only just be appearing, but here are the key reasons we advise an early visit;
✔ Acclimatise - coming from an early age builds familiarity & confidence.
✔ Advice - we can offer tips regarding teething, toothbrushing, weaning & dietary habits. Remember tooth decay is a preventable disease.
✔ Assessment - we can check dental development & patterns. We can often identify problems early & provide extra care for patients at higher risk.
✔ Access - also being registered at a dental practice is important in case of sudden dental problems or emergencies. The toddler phase and becoming mobile can result in all sorts of bumps.
Any advice for cleaning a toddler’s teeth?
Oh gosh I could write a whole book on this one! The main pointer would be try not to see it as a chore. It can be hard, especially if little ones are tired and it often seems easier to give up. I’m not saying every brushing episode needs to be perfect so try to keep calm & don’t let it stress you out.
Toothbrushing regression is often just another challenging phase. It is advised to supervise brushing up until age 7 at least with the child doing more of the brushing themselves over time.
Ideas for making it fun include;
- A song or dance - Blippi has a song on YouTube or invent your own
- Inventing a brushing game
- Using a toothbrushing app
- Have a reward system and timer
- Make it a whole family activity with parents or siblings brushing together
- Get child to brush first & you are ‘checking’ after
- Doing it in the bath
- Encouraging different caregivers to help out not just mum
- Having 2 toothbrushes so they can hold one
- Positive reinforcement - verbally praise good behaviours
- Toothbrushing books or tv episodes - the new Hey Duggee Toothbrushing Badge is particularly awesome.
- School age children can use disclosing tablets to highlight areas they have missed.
- A new novelty toothbrush
What is the best toothpaste and how much should you use?
The evidence based advice for 3-6 years is;
- Use toothpaste containing more than 1,000ppm of fluoride (or family toothpaste containing between 1,350ppm and 1,500ppm fluoride)
- Use a pea-sized amount of paste
Any suggestions to help get kids used to the taste of toothpaste?
It’s good idea to go for a mild mint flavour from the very beginning (rather than fruity). Getting used to it from the start makes it much easier than trying to swap over later down the line! Plus sometimes children will try to eat fruit flavoured pastes. However if your child has sensory processing issues or other behavioural conditions then you can buy unflavoured toothpastes that still contain the all-important fluoride.
Any advice on taking young children to the dentist?
Positive preparation! Dentists are often portrayed negatively in society and if parents themselves have had a previous bad experience they may pass this anxiety onto their children. So I encourage you to make the prospect of a dentist trip seem as fun as possible. Ideas for this include;
- Books - there are many stories that can help prepare your child for what will happen at a dental visit. Favourites of mine include Usborne and Peppa Pig.
- TV programmes - again special mention here to Peppa Pig’s Dentist Trip episode. Also, Topsy & Tim have an episode. And on BBC iPlayer is Something Special where Mr Tumble pretends to be a dentist!
- Role play - children can benefit from exploring and investigating different perspectives. It also creates familiarity, develops language skills and empathy.
- Toys - Playmobil, Sylvanian families, Barbie, and Playdoh all do fun dental themed toys!
And don’t worry if they won’t sit in the chair or open up, we will try and build confidence at each visit.
What are the best cups/ bottles to use for young children?
Dentists recommend early introduction (from 6 months) of a free-flowing or open-top cup. This is for 2 main reasons;
- Compared to bottles or spouted/valve cups, open cups reduce the time that liquids are in contact with the teeth.
- They promote a sipping action (rather than sucking) which is better for jaw development.
Why is sugar so bad for teeth?
Simply put SUGAR + BACTERIA = ACID then ACID + TOOTH = DECAY
Certain bacteria (found in dental plaque) digest sugary foods. This process produces acid. The acid then dissolves (or demineralises) the surface of your tooth - if this happens repeatedly over time it can lead to a cavity.
It’s pretty impossible to avoid all sugar but the main issue from a tooth care perspective is TIMING & FREQUENCY of consumption rather than amount. Every time you eat, the pH in your mouth drops from neutral to a more acidic state - if it drops below a certain pH (5.5) then tooth structure starts to dissolve away. The oral environment then needs time to recover after eating. Meaning if you are going to give your child something sugary, then keep it to dessert or pudding at mealtimes. And then try and stick to savoury snacks between meals.
Also be aware certain textures such as those that are chewy, sticky or gummy, will adhere to the grooves in the teeth which means longer time to cause damage.
What are the best drinks to give to young children?
WATER!! And by this I mean plain water. It has a neutral pH, is readily available, free and is the best for hydration. Fizzy water and flavoured fruit waters have a more acidic pH which can damage tooth enamel. The enamel on baby teeth is thinner and so much more vulnerable to decaying.
Milk is obviously key for young babies and toddlers. NHS guidance should be followed with regards to milk habits and the introduction of cow’s milk or alternative milks. Both calcium & phosphate minerals found in milk are great for teeth. However milk also contains lactose (milk sugars) which is why it is not the best night time beverage for toddlers so ideally only water after bedtime toothbrushing over age 1.
Be super wary too of juices, cordials & smoothies that may claim “no added sugar”. Any fruit drink such as this can damage teeth in 2 ways;
- Blending fruit releases the fructose (or fruit sugars) which can readily attack tooth surfaces.
- Fruit drinks tend to have a lower pH which creates an environment that causes erosion to the tooth enamel.
And obviously pop/fizzy drinks are a big no no. They are mega sugary of course, but it’s also the carbonation process that creates the bubbles. So even the ‘zero’ or ‘light’ versions contain acids.
Is sucking your thumb or using a dummy bad for teeth?
Potentially yes. A habit such as these can affect the position of teeth and jaw development. So prolonged use of either a dummy or digit sucking can cause issues with a child’s bite and lead to orthodontic issues.
You can often tell if a child is still doing this at primary school age as their teeth have a distinctive open arch shape. That said for very young babies a pacifier can be a source of comfort. The guidance is to try and withdraw a habit such as a dummy by 12 months. It’s not always easy but as they get older stopping it can be even harder.
You’ll find lots more great advice on Instagram too @themummydentist