#1 Avoid sugar
“When it comes to preventing kids tooth decay, diet is possibly the number one factor to consider, with sugar being the main culprit,” says Dr Narayana. “Unfortunately, with modern diets it’s hard to completely avoid sugars, as many are hidden in foods that are perceived to be healthy.” Try to say ‘no’ to sweet drinks and lollies, “Although we understand this may be difficult for kids – and mums and dads!”
Skip sugary soft drinks
Also try not to give your child juice, which contains almost the same amount of sugar as soft drinks. Go for water or plain milk and eat fresh fruit instead.
Watch out for high-sugar foods
When you’re at the supermarket, try using the free FoodSwitch app. Scan the barcode to get the food’s overall nutritional value and a traffic-light rating – green, yellow or red. (You may be surprised to find out how much sugar is in so-called ‘healthy’ foods.) Then it will suggest a better food option or ‘switch’.
Check how often your kids are eating sugar
It’s not just the amount of sugar they eat, but how frequently they’re eating it, that can increase the chances of kids tooth decay. “Having a slice of cake for dessert isn’t as bad for their teeth as snacking on lollies throughout the day. The frequent intake of sugar allows harmful decay-causing bacteria to release acid that dissolves enamel,” explains Dr Narayana. “By cutting out frequent snacks, the bacteria ‘starve’ between treats instead of being ‘fed’ repeatedly.”
#2 Brush twice a day
I know it’s hard for young children,” says Dr Narayana, “but get them into the habit of brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.”
Brush after eating something with sugar
To minimise the effects, get your child to brush their teeth (if you’re home), or drink water to wash it away.
Night brushing is more important than day brushing
“Make it a part of your child’s bedtime routine,” says Dr Narayana. “My daughter Lucy knows I don’t go to bed unless I brush my teeth and it’s a normal thing.”
Don’t let little kids be in charge of brushing
“You can’t expect a small child to do this properly,” says Dr Narayana. “For little kids, mum and dad should get involved. Demonstrate how to brush all three surfaces – outside, inside and tops of teeth (most kids only brush the outside). Your child needs to be older than two to brush by themselves. From six, they can do their own thing.”
Put on a timer
“Most people think they’re brushing for two minutes, but they’re actually doing it for only 20 to 30 seconds. To do all the surfaces properly, kids’ teeth should be brushed for one to two minutes, which is about what they can handle.” Use your smartphone or get a simple sand timer.
Pay attention to their back teeth
“Most kids tooth decay happens in the back molars,” continues Dr Narayana. “We encourage mums and dads to make sure they’re getting into this area with the toothbrush. If your little one wants to have a go, get them used to reaching far back in their mouth to the molars.”
#3 Visit the dentist
From a young age onwards, get your child into the habit of coming to the dentist. “The earlier, the better,” advises Dr Narayana. Read more in our article What age should kids first visit the dentist?
First few visits
“Their first appointment won’t be anything major – just sitting on mum’s lap when they come in. After this, your child might have a dental check-up with the dentist, then they’ll see a dental hygienist to get a lesson on how to brush their teeth.”
Check-ups every six months
A dental check-up and clean every six months will help avoid kids tooth decay. “If your child gets their teeth checked and preventive advice is provided, they’ll probably never have problems in the first place. If there is a problem, it’s going to get caught early. It could be a case of having a small filling rather than a complicated procedure like having teeth out. Also, when young children see the dentist regularly, there’s not as much dental fear going on.”