Tiny teeth and growing gums: 5 ways to keep your child’s smile healthy

We sat down with Metro North Oral Health Principal Dentist Dr Tarini Singh who’s passionate about brightening the smiles of Queensland’s kids and teenagers.

“Wearing a great smile can boost confidence and improve happiness, especially for kids,” Tarini said.

“I love to create good hygiene habits and positive experiences so kids can grow up with a full and healthy smile, but it takes more than an annual check-up! I want parents to know there’s a lot they can do at home and when visiting the dentist to help foster excellent oral hygiene for their young ones.”

So, what are the five key takeaways for nurturing great smiles at home? Tarini spells these out below:

1. Start a family brushing routine

Explain to your kids the golden rule – you must brush before bed, and you can’t leave the house in the morning until you brush! Kids love to copy their parents, so make brushing something the family can do together.  I recommend supervising your child’s brushing routine until they’re at least 9-years-old when they’ve built up the dexterity and maturity to brush properly on their own.

2. Break bad habits

Keeping an eye on your child’s brushing routine means you can identify their bad habits early. Some brush too roughly which can irritate or hurt their gums and lead to teeth becoming more sensitive with time. They might not be using enough toothpaste or mightn’t be brushing for the recommended two minutes, either. Being present allows you to fix these errors early on.

One key element to take note of is to make sure they rinse their toothbrush after brushing, but not their mouth! Immediate mouth rising will wash away the fluoride from the paste, diluting its preventative effects. If your children dislike the flavour of toothpaste, try different ones until you find one they like and don’t have the urge to rinse out straight away. Parents, please also remember to replace their toothbrush (and your own!) every three months.

3. Make it fun

Teeth-brushing time just became an opportunity for a family dance party! My tip is to have kids take turns picking a song they like that goes for the recommended tooth-brushing time, to listen to while brushing. As a further incentive, you could try offering a reward if they’ve done a good job brushing and flossing. Avoid handing out sugary treats, and opt for a fun sticker, a bedtime story or a game you know they’ll love.

4. Let the dentist lead the appointment

As dentists, we try to make sure children’s experiences are positive so that they don’t turn into a dentist-avoiding adult.

Parents can sometimes unwillingly create a negative experience by using language that can come across as scary or intimidating, or by talking about what the dentist was like when they were a kid –so much has changed since then!

We ask parents and caregivers to let us lead the appointment so we can use less intimidating terminology, for example, “wriggling out a tooth” instead of “ripping it out”. Keep this in mind when you talk about any of your childhood or adulthood dentist experiences in front of kids.

5. Find out what you can access

One of the top reasons many people  avoid the dentist is the financial element of the visit. However, there are many options to ensure children can access great dental treatments through the public system. There are wonderful providers, including the Metro North Oral Health Service, that offer a full range of treatments at no cost to those with the following eligibility:

  • Queensland residents or those who attend a school in Queensland; and
  • are eligible for Medicare; and
  • Meet at least one of the following criteria:
    • aged four years or older through to the end of Year 10.
    • eligible for the Medicare Child Dental Benefits Schedule.
    • listed as a dependent on a valid Centrelink concession card or are the holder of a valid Centrelink concession card.

More information on the service we provide is available at the Child and Adolescent Oral Health Services website.