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You know that your family should visit the dentist twice a year, but what else should you be doing to keep your family’s pearly whites healthy and cavity-free?

Dr Janet Gritzman, a dentist, and paediatric dentist, Dr Geoff Melman, shed some light on good oral hygiene practices and when you should visit the dentist.

1. Twice a day keeps the dentist away

Brushing your teeth, after you’ve flossed, should happen twice a day – after breakfast and just before your child goes to sleep, making sure that they don’t eat or drink anything before they climb into bed.

2. How, not how long

Brushing properly is more important than brushing for a certain length of time. Brush all the surfaces of all your child’s teeth – top, front and behind. Gritzman points out that to avoid overbrushing, you should brush your child’s teeth for no longer than two minutes.

3. Wash your mouth out

Mouthwash with fluoride should preferably be used after breakfast and lunch, and before going to bed at night; half a cap full, swished around the mouth for 20 seconds. After this, do not eat, drink or rinse for at least 30 minutes. The teeth of children under six years old can be wiped with a piece of gauze dipped in fluoride mouth wash.

4. Sleep sweet

Gritzman can’t stress enough how important it is that babies are not put to bed or left with a bottle of juice, or even milk, as this can cause baby bottle decay, also known as nursing caries. Plain water is the safest drink for your baby between feeds.

5. Start at birth

Before your baby gets her first teeth, clean the inside of her mouth with a piece of wet gauze when it is bath time to help keep the gums clean.

6. Apron strings, please

Toddlers and young children don’t have the manual dexterity required to brush properly, so you need to brush for them until they are at least six years old. If your child is more independent than most, then be sure to supervise for as long as possible. When you visit the dentist with your child, they can show them how to do it right.

7. Little people love to be big people

Along with bedtime, most children loathe that thing that comes before it: brushing their teeth. So make it something to look forward to by brushing your teeth together or letting them sit with you while you clean your own teeth. Also, make it fun by putting up a special star chart on the bathroom wall as an incentive.

8. Be gone bacteria

When children take antibiotics or other medicine, which is usually in the form of inviting, sugary syrup, make sure that they rinse out their mouths with water afterwards.

9. A first

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children visit the dentist for the first time just before their first birthday. Regular checkups from a young age can prevent paranoia of the dentist and help make dentist visits a lifelong habit.

10. Sweet relief

For parents of sugar-hungry children, there is good news: Xylitol can be used as a sugar replacement as it has shown to significantly reverse early signs of tooth decay. Sticky, chewy and sucking foods are bad for the teeth, says Melman, as they spend a long time in the mouth where they are processed by bacteria. Xylitol has antibacterial properties as it is not processed by these bacteria that are responsible for tooth decay. So, buy sweets and chewing gum with Xylitol, as well as Xylitol toothpastes and gels.

11. Suck it up

Many children love sports and fizzy drinks and flavoured milk, which contain huge amounts of sugar. Use straws when drinking these, as this directs the sugary drink away from the teeth.

12. Snack attack

Instead of allowing children to snack on chocolate, have them nibble on a slice of cheese. Dairy products, such as cheese and milk, are alkaline-based and counteract the acids that eat away at your teeth.

13. Safe from stinky breath

Get your child into the habit of brushing their tongue, and make sure they get right to the back. Unfortunately, this is close to the gag reflex so take care and scrape gently so as not to damage the tongue. Whether you buy them a tongue scraper or they use their toothbrush, the job is done if the tongue is a healthy pink.

14. An added buffer

Gritzman is a strong believer in tooth mousse – a toothpaste made from dairy products. Rub a small amount onto the teeth with the finger just before bedtime. It replenishes the minerals of the tooth structure and significantly reduces tooth decay.

15. Brace yourself for the future

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that the initial orthodontic evaluation should occur at the first sign of any problems, or by no later than the age of seven. Gritzman says that at this early age, orthodontic treatment may not be necessary, but vigilant examination can anticipate the most ideal time to begin treatment.

16. Lay a solid foundation

Primary or milk teeth play a vital role in the growth and development of your child. They are needed for speech and to bite food, they prevent tongue thrust or the reverse swallow, and even play a major psychological role in your child’s self-esteem, says Melman. The primary molars, needed for chewing food, act as a space maintainer to allow the permanent premolars to settle into the correct position. So, it is vitally important to brush and floss your child’s milk teeth twice a day to pave the way for their permanent teeth.

Lucille Kemp