Add fun to your child's dental routine

"Argh... My child simply refuses to brush her teeth! When do I start brushing my child's teeth? How much toothpaste should I use for my little one or shouldn't I use toothpaste at all? When should I schedule my child's first trip to the dentist?"

Heard these before? These seem to be common questions that parents, especially first-timers, have.

Dentist Dr P. Muthamah says many parents have trouble judging how much dental care their child needs. "The majority of parents think that because baby teeth will eventually fall out, brushing is not important. This is not true, as a child's dental care begins even before he starts teething," she says.

She adds that once the teeth start growing, they need to be cared for with regular brushing.

First teeth

A full set of a child's baby or milk teeth contains 20. Generally, babies start teething from six months and on rare occasions, a baby is born with a tooth, which is called a neonatal tooth.

"All the 20 milk teeth should come in between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. And the child will start losing his teeth between the ages of 6 and 11.

"Even though infants do not have teeth, it is important to take care of their mouth and gums. Use a damp cloth to wipe your child's gums. Once your child has a few teeth, brush them with a soft child's toothbrush or rub them with a soft wet cloth."

A child's permanent teeth will start growing behind the milk teeth.

Dental care

The American Dental Association recommends that a child visits the dentist by his first birthday. Usually, the first dental visit will be more of a familiarisation visit for the child. Dr Muthamah says early examination and preventive care will protect your child's teeth and smile.

"It is not easy to get a child to get into a routine like brushing his teeth regularly. The best way is to make it fun and keep it quick," says Dr Muthamah, who runs Klinik Pergigian Joon in USJ Taipan, Subang Jaya. Dr Muthamah shares a few tips on how to encourage young children to brush their teeth.

Be a good role model - Children like to imitate others. Parents must set a good example for their children. It is pointless to force the child to brush his teeth or not to eat too many snacks and sweets when they are doing otherwise.

Sing along - Get in on the action, and join your toddler while he brushes his teeth, making it a fun, family affair. Parents can also play music like their child's favourite nursery rhymes and get him to brush along to the song.

Let the child decide - Allowing your child to pick his toothbrush, especially the ones with his favourite cartoon character will make a lot of difference. Children will be more inspired to brush their teeth and will not require much coaxing.

Play a game - Find ways to incorporate elements of fun games into the tooth brushing regime. Keep a chart of the child's daily brushing habits and get him to earn rewards for completing tasks.

Praise - Get your dentist to praise your toddler for brushing his teeth. It will encourage him to continue brushing regularly.

Dr Muthamah adds that a child does not require too much toothpaste. "Children can start without toothpaste. Slowly, introduce it to them. Smear a small amount over the toothbrush - smaller than the usual pea size. Parents can also opt for non-fluoride toothpaste for their child.

"Children may not be able to brush their teeth correctly until after the age of 7 or 8. It is good for parents to supervise their brushing to ensure good oral health. Let your child do the morning brushing while you handle the evening one."