Children’s Teeth: How to Keep Them Healthy

How to Keep Children's Teeth Healthy. A child smiling with white teeth

A couple of weeks ago there was a coffee morning at my son’s school, where two lovely Mums who are Dentists gave a talk on children’s teeth and the best ways to keep them healthy. I learned a lot from speaking to these Dentist Mums (they were much less scary than my regular Dentist) and I wanted to share some of the key bits of information, advice and tips with you all….

Brushing

We all know that children should be brushing their teeth twice a day; but did you know that this should take 3-4 minutes (each time) to do it correctly? I know that sometimes when we’re running late for school, I only spend a quarter of this time brushing George’s teeth, but I’m now determined to leave more time to brush for the full 3-4 minutes, which is the the time it takes to properly brush each tooth on the front, back and top.

I can be a bit of a control freak, so I like to brush George’s teeth myself. I found out that actually this is a good thing if your child is young – you should be brushing their teeth for them to ensure that you get to all the hard to reach parts.  However you should also then allow them to have a go with the toothbrush so that they build up the skills to do it independently at around the age of 7.

If your child doesn’t like having their teeth brushed, try introducing a battery operated toothbrush with one of their favourite cartoon characters on, as this normally makes it more fun for them. If this still doesn’t work, do persevere with the brushing. The most important thing is to try to get some toothpaste onto their teeth one way or another, so that it can get working. And don’t be tempted to buy any of the children’s fruity or bubblegum flavoured pastes, as it’s important that children get used to the mint flavour from a young age, so that it doesn’t become difficult to move them onto the stronger taste of adult toothpaste.

Also, you should be aware that when cleaning their teeth, make sure your child spits out any toothpaste at the end, but does not then rinse their mouth out as the toothpaste should stay on the teeth for as long as possible to get the most benefit from it.

Drinks

We all know that there are certain drinks that are bad for children’s teeth due to the sugar content, but it’s good to understand the extent of some of them . . .

As a guide, 4 grammes of sugar is the equivalent of one teaspoon. With this in mind, you may find it interesting to know that a 330ml can of ‘full fat’ Coke has 35g of sugar, that’s nearly 9 teaspoons of sugar!

A 200ml pouch of Capri Sun Orange Juice drink has 20g of sugar! When I take George to the cinema he often has a children’s snack box which has a Capri Sun in, but the thought of me spooning 5 teaspoons of sugar into his mouth horrifies me, so we’ll be making better choices in the future!

There are some drinks which may surprise you with their sugar content, such as the Waitrose Apple & Mango Hi Juice squash. When diluted to a 250ml serving this has 19.5g sugar – that’s nearly 5 spoons of sugar in a glass of squash!

And the more ‘healthy’ drinks can be packed with sugar too, such as the Innocent Kids Strawberries, Blackberries & Raspberries Smoothie where there’s 18g of sugar in a 180ml pouch, or the Innocent Apple Juice where there’s 14g sugar in a 150ml serving. I’ll let you do the maths on the number spoons of sugar these both have.

The best drink for children to have is plain water. George used to drink a lot of squash (although very diluted), however since speaking to the Dentist Mums who told me to “just give him water and if he’s thirsty he’ll drink it”, he now happily only drinks water except for special occasions, and it was remarkably easy for me to change to this.

If you do allow your child to drink squash or juice, the best time for them to have it is with their meals. It’s then a good idea to take it away from them when they have finished their food and replace with water, otherwise if they are sipping on the squash over a long period of time, the sugar in it will be affecting the teeth throughout the day.

Also, we all know children love a straw to drink through and it’s actually a good idea to give them one if they are having a sugary drink. This is because it helps minimise the contact of the sugar on the teeth. (It’s also a good thing for us Mums to use them when drinking our Gin and Fever Tree, to help minimise the sugar content in the tonic water, although I don’t think I can bring myself to drink a glass of red wine through a straw just yet!)

Fruit

Although fruit contains vitamins and is one of your 5 a day, it also contains natural sugar so it should be consumed in moderation. The best time to eat fruit is with, or straight after a meal, rather than letting your children snack on fruit for a long period of time whilst they play, or watch TV. If you do give fruit as a snack, it’s best to rinse out their mouth afterwards with water or a fluoride mouthwash (age 6 and over) and then wait 30 minutes before brushing. You can also offer a bit of cheese after the fruit which increases PH levels and stimulates saliva production. (I always knew there was a good reason to eat my favourite cheese and pineapple on a cocktail stick!)

Treats

It’s hard to ban children from having sweets and chocolate, especially when they are given them as gifts or in party bags. Even the Dentists at the talk allow their children to eat them, however it’s in a measured manner. 

Until speaking to the Dentist Mums, I used to use sweets and chocolates (mainly a Kinder Surprise) as a treat for rewards for good behaviour and achievements. However they have made me realise that this is a bad idea, as it could just increase consumption of sugar and have a negative affect on George’s teeth. I have since used non-food rewards and I must say a big ‘thank you’ to Sainsbury’s for their recent Lego card promotion, as George has been doing anything to get his hands on a packet of cards! The only Kinder eggs he now sees are those being unwrapped by ladies with exceptionally high pitched voices on those weird YouTube videos! (If you’re a Mum of a 4 year old, you’ll know exactly what I mean!)

If you do decide to give sweets or chocolate as a treat, it’s best to limit it to weekends and straight after a meal. Also be mindful of the type of sweets e.g. chewy sweets are particularly bad as they can stick to the teeth for a longer period of time.

Food for thought

Hopefully this information has got you thinking about your own child’s teeth and diet. If you already have a good approach to limiting sugar, we applaud you. But if you think you may have slipped into the trap of allowing too much sugar, then we challenge you to be more mindful of how much you allow to pass your child’s lips. Make sure you take a look on the back of drink and food packaging to review the sugar content, then in your mind equate those grammes of sugar to teaspoons of sugar and see how you feel about your child drinking/eating the product.

We’d love to know how you get on and if you make any changes with your children or your whole family

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We’re two Mums who are getting through motherhood one day at a time whilst enjoying Yoga and other ‘me time’ activities. We don’t profess to be experts in Yoga, Pilates, exercise, meditation, the human anatomy or medicine and we’re certainly not experts in parenting. We are simply sharing our experience and opinions and occasionally those of people who’s advice we value, and we’ll always reference them. If you’re unsure of starting any new exercise or practice, please consult your GP. And if you’re unsure of purchasing any products we suggest, please consult your bank balance!