21 Sep 2015

Back-to-school tips to keep teeth healthy

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1. Establish a regular tooth cleaning routine for your child


Good brushing technique is important so that dental plaque is adequately removed. Dental plaque is a sticky white film of bacteria and it contributes to causing dental decay.

Supervised brushing does not simply mean being in the same room – it means actually brushing their teeth for them, allowing the child to brush their own teeth, then the parent going over the teeth thoroughly with the toothbrush. Children on average don’t have the manual dexterity to brush their own teeth until the age of seven or eight, and so they usually require assistance to do the job properly.


At present, the official advice in Ireland is to brush your child’s teeth without using toothpaste until the child is 2 years of age. In some cases, your dentist may advise the use of a very small smear of fluoridated toothpaste before the age of 2. Using a fluoridated toothpaste appropriately is the single most efficient way to prevent decay.

A small pea-sized amount of toothpaste containing at least 1,000 parts per million (ppm) fluoride should be used to brush a child’s teeth (over the age of 2 years) Check the ingredients on the packaging.

Spit well but don’t rinse! Rinsing with water or mouthwash after brushing reduces the protective effect of toothpaste.


Flossing cleans between the teeth, where the toothbrush doesn’t reach. Decay very often starts on these surfaces and regular thorough flossing may reduce the likelihood of this happening.

You can usually begin flossing once your child is about 3-4 years old, but they typically won’t be able to floss on their own until they are 8-10 years old.

2. Healthy Diet

Teeth need a break! 5 times of eating or drinking per day is plenty – Teeth need a rest in between eating and drinking – give them a ‘food-free time’!

Choose water or milk. Fruit juices and smoothies are extremely high in sugar and are not nutritionally necessary. Eat fruit rather than drinking it.

Remember to check the labels on food, in particular those which children snack on a lot, for example yoghurts or fruit drinks. Many such foods and drinks can be marketed strongly towards children but frequent consumption of these can lead to dental decay. Also check the labels on children’s vitamins, which can also sometimes contain sugar. Remember that ‘natural sugars’ cause decay too.

3. Protect teeth during sports activities

Children who participate in organised sports, especially contact sports, should wear a mouthguard. Increasingly, there is a ‘No mouthguard, no play’ policy in place and this is to be welcomed.

The mouthguards which offer the best protection as well as comfort are custom made by a dental technician from an impression taken by the dentist of a child’s teeth. Speak to your dentist to arrange this for your child. Team colours can often be incorporated into a custom made mouthguard.

4. Schedule a dental visit for your child

Don’t wait until there is a problem! Dental decay is by far the most common chronic disease of childhood and can lead to pain, infection and missed schooldays as well as anxiety surrounding dental visits and treatment. Dental decay is also almost entirely preventable.

Schedule a visit to check your child’s teeth and of course to learn how to prevent decay. Studies have shown that children who are brought from an early age* are far less likely to develop dental decay than children who are brought after the age of 3 or 4years of age.

*The Irish Dental Association, the European Academy of Paediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry all recommend that the first dental visit should take place in the first year of life to optimise the child’s chance of having a healthy mouth.

Dr Afric Ni Chaollai