After a recent credit card-crippling visit to my dentist, I asked myself “Why did I not look after my teeth when I was younger?” I’m now paying the price, literally!
My problems began when my mother used to make me bottle after bottle of orange cordial drink. I was totally addicted. Seven fillings later – and a crown to boot – I wish my mum had been better advised. Luckily I grew up in an area where the water was fluoridated, or it could have been much worse for my ailing teeth.
While our early habits contribute to the health of our teeth, genetics play a part too, according to Dr Mark Nieh of Hornsby Dental.
“English children, for example, have a lot more crowding problems, which have to do with the development of the adult tooth being a little wider compared to the size of their jaws. German children have larger jaws so they don’t usually have this problem,” Dr Nieh says.
Aside from our predetermined genetics, there are steps we can take to prevent costly tooth problems for our children in later life. Here are some top tips endorsed by the ANZ Society of Paediatric Dentistry.
Babies aren’t born with decay-causing bacteria – they're passed on by kissing or food tasting.
1. It all starts in the womb: during the last three months of pregnancy, a mother provides the minerals needed to calcify the baby’s teeth. While the old saying that you lose a tooth for every pregnancy is a myth, you should still try to increase your intake of calcium-rich foods and drinks.
2. Ensure that your own teeth and gums are clean and healthy. Babies aren’t born with decay-causing bacteria; bacteria are passed to babies by contact such as kissing and food tasting, or when parents clean the dummy in their own mouths.
3. You can start training children to look after their teeth even before they have them – you can just rub over their gums with gauze or a damp, clean face washer. When your child’s teeth start to come in, you can start a twice-daily tooth brushing. Children under the age of six should use junior toothpaste, which has a lower amount of fluoride, a milder taste and less foam, and a child’s toothbrush.
4. Visit your family dentist for a check-up twice every year. Dr Nieh says, “We encourage parents to bring their children along with them to their dental visits around the age of two or three, where they can sit in the chair without having any dental treatment. The dentist can show them how to brush their teeth – and if the child allows a dental examination, that’s even better.”
5. Limit acidic foods and drinks to mealtimes, particularly avoiding them before bedtime or during the night. Acidic foods include fresh citrus fruit, pickled foods, vinegar and certain sauces; acids are also found in tinned foods, such as baked beans or pasta. Acidic drinks include fresh fruit drinks, cordials and carbonated drinks.
Dr Nieh says, “While most of us would assume fruits and juices are healthy for children, the natural sugar and acids they contain can damage teeth. These will contribute to tooth decay as much as soft drinks and lollies. You don’t have to cut them out completely, as they’re good for your body, but they aren’t so good for the teeth. If you’re eating them, try to stick to meal times, rather than snacking on them throughout the day.”
6. Finish meals with food and drink that neutralise acid, such as cheese, milk or water.
7. How we drink is important: use a straw instead of sipping drinks. Drinks taken from a glass take a longer time to leave the mouth than those taken with a straw or a child’s feeder cup, which can increase erosion.
8. It’s better to drink chilled drinks – they’re less erosive than warmer options.
9. Give saliva time to work. Saliva constantly replaces the minerals in teeth and washes away harmful acids; in order to give the process time to work, try to limit how often you eat and drink throughout the day (with the exception of water, which is fine at any time).
10. Be careful when storing toothbrushes – if they’re kept where they can touch each other, such as in a cup, you can pass around germs that can cause decay. It’s also not a good idea to share toothbrushes between family members.