Health

A visit to the dentist

Check-ups are vital to keep your child’s teeth in tip-top condition – and even babies can benefit from a ride in the dentist’s chair. Here’s everything you need to know about that crucial first visit

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Last year, research showed that only three per cent of children in England visit the dentist before their first birthday. Yet far from waiting until your child has teeth coming through, dentists recommend taking your baby along with you to dental appointments from birth.

All children up to the age of 18 years old receive dental treatment free on the NHS. And you can switch dentists at any time if you’re not happy with your current practice. You can register your baby at a practice as soon as he or she is born. ‘Real’ checkups should start no later than two-and-a-half years old, once all the baby teeth are in place. If you decide to go private, always get a quotation for any work needed.

Taking your child to your own check-ups from his early days will get him used to the dentist’s surgery. A child-friendly dentist might gently encourage your child to open his mouth, or give him a ride in the chair. Your child will also get to watch you sitting calmly (!) in the chair and having your teeth examined – helping him feel that a visit to the dentist is no big deal.

...far from waiting until your child has teeth coming through, dentists recommend taking your baby along with you to dental appointments from birth.

It’s worth looking for a family-friendly practice which will make little ones feel comfortable and at home. When choosing a family practice, ask yourself: is the waiting room child-friendly? Does it have toys and books, and room to play? Do the staff make your child feel welcome – and do they have a good array of stickers for rewards?

How often you take your child for check-ups may well depend on what area of the country you’re in. Some areas have more fluoride in the water than others. Fluoride helps to stop decay, so if you’ve got more in your water your child may not need checking so often. It’s also dependent ona child’s decay experience. If you have a child who has experienced decay at an early age, they will probably be on a four-monthly check up cycle. Children who aren’t experiencing decay could well be on a six-monthly or 12-monthly cycle.

Fluoride varnish can be applied to baby teeth: it involves painting a varnish that contains high levels of fluoride onto the surface of the tooth every six months to prevent decay. Some children may need this more often. It works by strengthening tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay. From the age of three, children should be offered a fluoride varnish application at least twice a year. Younger children may also be offered this treatment if your dentist thinks they need it.

TEETHING TROUBLES

For most children, a dentist’s appointment will just be counting the teeth, looking at them, and checking that they’ve all come through normally. But sadly, problems – some of them preventable – do arise.

Tooth decay is still the big issue, including cases of ‘baby bottle decay’ where young children have been given bottles of sugary drink late at night. It’s rarer than it used to be, but around one in three five-year-olds have some decay by the time they get to school. This shouldn’t happen because decay is preventable.

Teeth take time to develop – and so do problems. Usually, these will not appear until a child’s second teeth start to come through, around the age of six. Between the age of five to seven, the front teeth will change from baby to adult teeth, with the molars coming in next. It’s from this point that potential problems may arise with overcrowding, or protruding teeth. It’s a waiting game to see how the teeth develop – although in some instances dentists identify future overcrowding and carry out extractions to make room. Generally, the dentist will moitor these problems from an early age, but will not actually start treating them until the early teens.

Avoid fizzy drinks, but if kids do have the odd one get them to drink through a straw which helps the sugar bypass the teeth.

KEEP YOUR CHILD’S TEETH HEALTHY

When you’re brushing…

Use a pea-sized blob of fluoride toothpaste.

Brush twice a day, two minutes at a time.

Supervise children under seven, and do younger children yourself.

Use the correct toothbrush for your child’s age.

Get your child to spit, not rinse – this helps fluoride stay on the teeth for longer.

Don’t floss baby teeth, but introduce floss and children’s mouthwash once adult teeth are through.

When you’re eating…

Avoid fizzy drinks, but if kids do have the odd one get them to drink through a straw which helps the sugar bypass the teeth.

Discourage endless snacking.

Choose snacks like breadsticks and cheese, which don’t contain sugar.

HELP AT HAND!

My child’s knocked a tooth out

If your child knocks out a baby tooth, it’s worth getting him seen by your dentist as soon as possible: although it’s unlikely that any action will be taken, as the tooth would have fallen out in time anyway. If your child knocks out an adult tooth, it can be replaced. Find the tooth and put it back in the socket straight away – then get to a dentist. If the tooth won’t go back in, either put it in milk, or in the child’s cheek, until you get to the dentist.

My child needs a filling

Fillings are likely to be done under local anaesthetic. The dentist will usually apply a topical anaesthetic to numb the gum on a cotton roll in the cheek before carrying out the injection to numb the tooth. The injection will be quick and should hardly hurt at all. Again, a positive attitude is key to helping your child stay calm. It’s important not to pass on your own preconceptions. An injection shouldn’t actually be painful if the gum has been numbed beforehand. But if you say afterwards: ‘That didn’t hurt, did it?’ your child will pick up that it could be painful and will be more resistant to the procedure next time.

ARTHUR’S WOBBLY TOOTH

Five-year-old son Arthur was playing ‘spinning round’ with one of his friends when he spun out of control and fell on his face. His mum Naomi takes up the story.

‘One of his front baby teeth had taken a severe knock. It was wobbly and bleeding. I rang our dentist straight away. “Bring him in this afternoon,” she said.

In the chair, Arthur asked the dentist hopefully: “Will it fall out so I get money for it?” “In time, but probably not today,” she said.

The dentist advised me that as it was a baby tooth, there was no need to do anything. “It will probably be one of the first to fall out, but there’s no actual damage,’ she said. ‘Keep an eye on it and come back if it starts to feel sore, as it could be infected.”

She told Arthur he was a very brave boy, and gave him a sticker. Everything healed very quickly. Six months later, the tooth still hasn’t fallen out – but Arthur is living in hope!’

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