A trip to the dentist or an outing to the park? For children the choice is obvious. But for many parents, a visit to the dentist is not high on their to-do list.
A recent survey by Mintel of nearly 500 parents of children under 12 years old found that nearly half did not regularly take their children to the dentist. Only one in five thought their children needed to see a dentist once they had developed baby teeth, and only 63% of mothers and 50% of fathers ensured their children brush their teeth every day. No wonder that 30% of children in the UK have had tooth decay by the age of five. So how often do you need to take your child to the dentist?
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Children need to see a dentist once they have milk teeth. The dentist will then suggest follow-ups – usually between three months and a year. If you wait until your child is about to go to school you should expect your dentist to look askance – NHS guidelines say that, at the very least, children should have at least one visit to the dentist before the age of two.
This is not only for children to get used to the whole dental-surgery experience but also because preventive treatments for decay are now available, such as painting teeth with fluoride varnish to strengthen enamel. Dentists can also give advice on brushing and diet.
Children should start brushing with soft-bristle brushes using fluoride toothpaste (1,000 parts per million to start with – check the packet) as soon as they have milk teeth. Parents must do it for the first few years (sitting your child on your lap and brushing from behind is good for toddlers) and should then supervise until the age of seven.
Brushing should be done for two minutes in the morning and evening and children should be shown how to brush (a circular action that starts and finishes in the same place on each tooth) by looking in the mirror, and be taught to spit rather than rinse as this retains the benefits of fluoride. As important as brushing is, sugary drinks are also to be avoided.
Dilute fruit juice and limit fizzy drinks with artificial sweeteners as they are both acidic and destroy enamel. Using a straw diverts drinks to the back of the mouth and may protect teeth. Eating any foods that contain sugar, not just sweets, will also cause tooth decay so try to get your children into healthy eating habits.
And if this all sounds like a bit of a hassle, as anyone who has witnessed his or her toddler having a filling will tell you, it's not.