Children's oral health: how do we care for it?

Parents have a responsibility to teach their child the basics of good oral hygiene. Here is some valuable information about it.

Is it true that sugar is harmful to children's oral health?

Yes, it’s true. The bacteria in the mouth that cause tooth decay thrive on sugar. These bacteria are found in plaque, the film that is removed during brushing. Plaque is also composed of food particles and saliva. If it is not removed, plaque turns into tartar, a yellowish substance stuck to the teeth that only a professional can remove with the appropriate instruments.

Sugar therefore promotes the appearance of cavities, and this is not a myth, but a reality. Natural sugar is as harmful to teeth as refined sugar, but naturally sweetened foods (e.g. fruit) generally contain less sugar than artificially sweetened foods.  

Therefore, parents should try to limit the amount of sugar in foods and beverages. Here are a few tips on how to do this:

  • Follow the recommendations of Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Make water your child’s main drink between meals (avoid juice and other sugary drinks).
  • Make it a habit to read the list of ingredients and the nutrition facts table on food packaging. You will know if they contain sugar or sweet ingredients (e.g. corn or maple syrup, honey, sucrose, fructose).
  • Look for foods with a reduced sugar content.

What can be done to prevent tooth decay?

A first tooth generally appears at the age of 5 or 6 months. In total, children eventually have 20 baby teeth by the age of 2 to 3 years, and they usually start losing them between the ages of 5 and 8.

Small children cannot escape the risk of cavities. As soon as babies have teeth, they can develop what is called early childhood tooth decay, until the age of four.  The progression of this type of tooth decay can be quick and lead to complications and pain. Spots or white lines on the teeth, or a brownish discolouration, are signs to watch out for.

In addition to limiting sugar consumption, here are other measures that can help to prevent tooth decay:

  • Clean and brush your child’s teeth regularly.
  • Do not let your child fall asleep with a bottle of milk, baby formula or juice in their mouth.
  • Do not kiss your child directly on the mouth.
  • Do not share tooth brushes or utensils (even from mother to child).
  • See your dentist regularly. The first visit is recommended within six months of the appearance of the first tooth or around the age of one year.

At what age should you start brushing baby’s teeth?

When the first tooth appears, it is already time to clean it with a moist washcloth or a small toothbrush coated with toothpaste (an amount equivalent to the size of a grain of rice).

Starting at about two years of age, children can begin to be taught to brush their teeth with parental help or supervision. It is recommended to brush twice a day, morning and night, with a fluoride toothpaste adapted to the child's age. Here are a few tips to make the process easier.

  • Brush your teeth at the same time as your child (side by side). They will learn to do it well by observing you, especially if you are in front of a mirror.
  • Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste.
  • Teach your child to spit out the excess toothpaste instead of swallowing it.
  • Be sure to thoroughly brush the teeth, gums and tongue.
  • Supervise tooth brushing until the child is five or six years old.

When your child has enough teeth so that they are close together and touching, it is recommended that you floss once a day until the child is able to do it on their own (which should happen before the age of 10 if accompanied).

My child sucks their thumb or fingers: is it harmful?

Answer: Unfortunately yes. If a child sucks their thumb or fingers, it can affect the alignment of the teeth or jaw. It is therefore essential to help them stop this habit before the age of two to three years.

Before that age, a pacifier is preferable to thumb sucking because parents can better control their child's sucking habits. A pacifier should never be coated with a sweet substance such as honey, as this increases the risk of cavities. 

The information in this document cannot replace the advice of your dentist or dental hygienist. Consult them for care adapted to your child's specific needs.  It is recommended for all children and adults to see the dentist at least once a year!

Don't hesitate to speak your pharmacist for additional information about toddler health.


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Children's oral health: how do we care for it?

Parents have a responsibility to teach their child the basics of good oral hygiene. Here is some valuable information about it.
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