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Westdene Dental

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Babies & Children's Teeth

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The importance of diet:

Avoiding giving a baby or a young child unnecessary sugars is a good way to establish healthy eating patterns to protect every child's teeth for life. Milk and water are the only drinks which will not damage a child's teeth and are the only liquids which should be put in a child's bottle.

Babies should be weaned off a bottle as soon as possible. Fruit juice given to children should be diluted (1 part juice to 10 parts water) and given in a feeding cup. Only allow juices at mealtimes. If the child tends to snack between meals, remember that something like cheese is a much more tooth friendly food compared to sweets, cakes and biscuits.

The importance of cleaning teeth

Plaque will start to form on a child's teeth and gums as soon as the first tooth appears (erupts). So, it is very important to begin a suitable tooth-brushing routine as soon as possible as this will establish their pattern of tooth-brushing into adolescence

Use a toothbrush that is appropriate for the child's age and stage of tooth development. A small-headed soft brush should be used as soon as the first tooth erupts. Character toothbrushes are an excellent way to make brushing fun for young children. A small smear of a children's fluoridated toothpaste should be used on the brush. As the child gets older a slightly larger brush with medium bristles may be used.

The importance of fluoride

Fluoride occurs naturally, at some level, in the water in most areas and helps to prevent tooth decay when at the correct concentration. Fluoride is present in most toothpastes but special children's toothpastes are better for babies and infants because the amount of fluoride is controlled specifically for their needs. The amount of fluoride in any area's water supply can be ascertained by contacting the Local Water Authority. Fluoride supplements can be in tablet form and may be prescribed by the dentist if significant active decay is identified during routine dental examinations. A varnish can be applied by the dentist or hygienist in the surgery. Although fluoride has a valuable protective function for teeth, like many things it is important to have just the right amount, not too much or too little. To avoid excess fluoride from toothpastes, children under six years should be supervised when tooth-brushing and only use a small smear of toothpaste. Children over seven years can use the family fluoride toothpaste but only a pea sized amount on their brush.

Changes over time

Weaning & Teething

The timing of the eruption of the first teeth can vary widely, with the earliest date being around three months to as late as 11 or 12 months. This is a normal range, although if there are any concerns about late eruption of teeth, this should be discussed with the dentist. The first teeth to appear are usually the central lower teeth (incisors).

Sugars should not be added to weaning foods. When buying prepared foods always read the labels to ensure that hidden sugars are kept to a minimum.

Try to introduce babies to 'savoury' foods early, such as pureed vegetables. During teething babies may look a bit flushed and dribble more than usual. Babies often find comfort from the use of teething rings or other implements used to bite on. Teething does not usually cause symptoms such as raised temperatures but it is seen occasionally. However this can often be helped with child paracetamol. Teething salts are available which help to numb the gums temporarily.

Teething and eruption dates

The exact dates of when teeth erupt will change from child to child, but the following guide will give a rough guide of what to expect. Permanent tooth development in girls maybe more advanced than in boys.

Primary, baby or deciduous teeth

3-6 months Central lower incisors erupt
9-12 months All front incisors now present
12 months First primary molars
18 months Primary canines
2 years Second primary molars

Adult or permanent teeth

About 6 years Lower central incisors replaced. First lower permanent (adult) molar erupts (6 year molar). These appear behind the primary molars at the back of the mouth
9 years Canines replaced
11/12 years Permanent pre-molars replace primary molars
12 years Second molars erupt
16 years + Wisdom teeth erupt

Healthy gums

With all children it is important to establish good oral hygiene practice as early as possible to prevent the development of common gum diseases (such as gingivitis) in later childhood and teenage years.

Visiting the dentist

It is a good idea to get babies and young children used to the idea of having dental examinations by allowing them to see what happens at the dentist when the parents or siblings attend the dentist. Dental visits by infants should begin at 18 months to familiarise them with the dentist and to have a 'ride' in the dental chair. Once confidence is gained by two years of age it should be possible to examine the baby teeth, which should all be present. While for the majority of children the teeth will develop normally, for some children there are variations in the number of teeth, their size, colour and shape. If you have any concerns about your child's teeth please come and speak to us at Westdene.

Children's Drinks

Fizzy drinks (whether diet or regular), artificial fruit squashes, cocoa and milkshakes can all cause harm to teeth. The sugar in them can lead to decay whilst the acid in both normal and diet drinks attacks the enamel covering the teeth (this is called erosion). Try to get children to drink only milk or water between meals. Dilute drinks, when applicable, as much as possible. Limit sugary drinks to meal times and special occasions only. After brushing teeth before bedtime, only let children drink water. Always look to get sugar-free formulas of liquid medicines from the pharmacist.

Plain still water and milk are the best choices for drinks for children. Sweetened drinks should be avoided for as long as possible. They encourage a 'sweet tooth', leading to problems later on.

Sugar-free squashes, if totally sugar free, are the best alternative to water or milk in order to reduce tooth decay. They should be diluted as much as possible – there should only be a hint of colour in the water when the drink is made up. Some of these drinks contain artificial sweeteners, which should not be given to a young child (check with a dentist/health visitor). Dilution reduces the effects of sugar on teeth, and in the case of sugar-free drinks will reduce the effects of acidic components which are also harmful to teeth.

If children are genuinely thirsty they will always drink water! It can be made more exciting to drink by giving it in a special cup, adding ice or using a straw.

Comfort feeders and bottles containing sugary liquids given to young children for prolonged periods of time cause severe dental problems as the constant application of sugar to the teeth leads to rampant dental decay. Never allow a child to have a bottle with a sweetened drink in bed overnight. Milk or water is the only drink that should be given in a baby's bottle.

Sugared liquid medicines for children are very effective but, if taken regularly, they have a significant risk of causing dental decay. If possible try giving them at mealtimes and not last thing at night. Better still, ask the GP or pharmacist for a sugar-free medicine.

The more often that a child has sugary drinks, the more likely they are to get dental decay. Therefore it is best to reduce the FREQUENCY of intake of sugary drinks rather than the amount, though ingesting very large amounts of sugar at fewer times of the day will also have harmful effects.

When buying drinks look at the labels. Manufacturers often describe sugars as 'added' or 'natural'. This is misleading as natural sugars will decay teeth also.


  1. Try to get children to drink only milk or water between mealtimes
  2. Dilute drinks if possible
  3. Give sugary drinks at mealtimes only
  4. Limit giving fizzy drinks as treats for special occasion meals only
  5. After brushing their teeth at bedtime, let children drink only water
  6. Liquid medicines: always try and get sugar-free formulas from the pharmacist.