From the moment those tiny teeth start to surface at about the age of six months, children’s teeth offer a fascinating insight into the amazing capabilities of the human body.
Designed to arrive right on cue as children start to eat solids and speak, only to be replaced by larger stronger models as humans develop and grow, teeth impact almost every area of wellbeing. Their role extends from facilitating communication to practical functions like eating, breathing, sleeping and general health.
So as the guardians of our children’s current and future health, how do you go about protecting your child’s teeth?
Some statistics on teeth
- Primary teeth start forming long before a child is born between about the sixth and eighth week of prenatal development, while permanent teeth begin to form about half way through the gestation period at 20 weeks.
- Baby teeth start erupting as early as six months
- Children have 20 baby teeth
- Australian children aged five to 10-years-old have on average 1.5 decayed, missing or filled teeth
- Adult teeth begin to erupt as early as six years
- A full set of adult teeth comprises 32 teeth, including the four wisdom teeth
- Australians aged over 15 have on average 12.8 missing, decayed or filled teeth
Like exercise or good eating habits, oral hygiene is a habit we instil in our children, and it starts even before the full set of primary first teeth arrive.
The Australian Dental Association (ADA) notes more than half of all six-year-olds have some decay in their baby and adult teeth, and the harsh truth is it’s largely preventable.
“Dental health is an ongoing process throughout a child’s life and you should begin by modelling good dental health practices early on so your child sees them as a normal part of life,” the ADA reflects.
Even if your child only has a few teeth, bacteria can get in and start causing decay, so you should start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth erupts. One great way to get your child used to teeth cleaning is to wipe their gums with a soft cloth twice a day.
“As soon as the teeth appear, you can switch to using a soft children’s brush, with no toothpaste until 18 months of age, while your child lies on your lap or on a bed. And yes, flossing is necessary; your dentist can show you the correct technique.”
Regular dental checkups help ensure any potential problems with the health of your child’s teeth are recognised and treated early, avoiding extensive intervention or tooth loss.
The Australian Dental Association recommends children first visit a dentist at about the time their first teeth appear or when they reach 12 months (whichever comes first).
Regular checkups should then be a fixture on your annual calendar to ensure teeth remain in their best possible condition. In some instances, more regular six-monthly checkups may be required.
Allergies and mouth breathing
The health of teeth can be impacted by far more than hygiene and vigilant brushing. Other health issues such as allergies and mouth breathing can also affect the condition of your child’s teeth.
If your child is a regular mouth breather, less saliva is produced and the pH balance in the mouth can shift, leaving teeth more prone to a high acid environment which can attack the teeth’s protective enamel. Ultimately, weakened enamel leads to higher incidence of cavities and decay.
Common conditions that can cause mouth breathing in children include allergies and enlarged tonsils. If your child is a regular mouth breather, it’s important to understand the root cause in a bid to eliminate the problem.
It’s recommended you speak to both your doctor and your dentist about why your child is mouth breathing and what you should do to minimise the potential effects on their teeth.
Teeth alignment and orthodontics
Orthodontic treatment helps protect teeth in two very important ways. Firstly straight, aligned teeth are easier to keep clean and care for over the course of a lifetime, which minimises the risk of tooth loss and decay.
Meanwhile, properly aligned teeth that meet in the correct position are less likely to be subject to wear, tear and trauma, which means they are more likely to go the distance of a lifetime spent eating, chewing and speaking.
The Australian Society of Orthodontists recommends children first see an orthodontist between the ages of seven and 10, when many of the adult teeth have either emerged or are coming into position.
This initial assessment allows an orthodontist to flag potential problems with the bite and teeth alignment and intervene early if required. Early intervention can alleviate the need for tooth extraction and invasive treatments later.
Its important parents remember, orthodontics is not just about aesthetics. Its primary role is to improve the function of teeth and facilitate a lifetime of better dental health. That means even if a child appears to have straight teeth, they should see an orthodontist to assess the position of the bite.
Mouth guards and dental trauma
Simple, affordable and readily available from your pharmacist, dentist or orthodontist, mouth guards are designed to protect the teeth of children who play contact sports, and their importance should not be overlooked.
Damage to teeth, or loss of an adult tooth due to trauma, is a significant issue. Meanwhile, even baby teeth play a very important role in holding the correct position for the adult teeth that are yet to come through.
If you’re child loses a baby tooth prematurely, an orthodontist will likely recommend a space maintainer to eliminate the risk of other teeth shifting to fill its position.
About Norwest Orthodontics
Norwest Orthodontics specialises in helping you achieve a great smile, no matter your age. We feature a range of orthodontic treatments that span from early intervention right through to remedial adult work.
We also have a suite of treatments available that include discreet, removeable Invisalign braces, and welcome the opportunity to work with you to achieve the smile you’ve always dreamed of.