FAQ Children 0-11

Common questions about childrens dental health

So you’re expecting a baby? Congratulations!

In the midst of all the things you need to think about, worrying about seeing your dentist may not be very high on the list. But your dental health has a big impact on your overall health which in turn has a major influence on the health of your baby, so it’s important that you maintain a good dental health routine throughout your pregnancy, and beyond.

You should also disregard old wives tales about calcium leaching from your teeth to the baby, the loss of a tooth for every baby you have, and fluorides treatments being bad for your baby. None of these are true and your dentist should be an active part of your healthcare team in the lead-up, during and after your pregnancy.
 
Make seeing your dentist a priority

Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy can exacerbate problems with your teeth and gums, and so you should maintain regular check-ups and cleanings. Your dentist is well-versed in which medications you can safely take while pregnant, and which procedures can be safely done at different stages of pregnancy.

Dealing with food cravings and morning sickness

Unusual food cravings are a fact of life for many women during pregnancy. For instance, you might routinely wake up at midnight desperate for chocolate-covered pickles in ice cream, with a side order of chips and jalapeno peppers. If your cravings take a turn towards the sweet end of things, try to limit the sugary snacks and instead, choose healthier options such as fresh fruit with natural or Greek yoghurt.

If you suffer from morning sickness, you need to know that vomit is highly acidic and can cause irreversible damage to your teeth. Tempting though it is to brush your teeth straight after a bout of morning sickness, it’s best to wait an hour or so as brushing too soon can strip away the enamel, which is the softened protective coating of your teeth, leaving them more vulnerable to decay and sensitivity. While you’re waiting, try rinsing your mouth with water to remove the acids, chew sugar-free gum or try eating an acid-neutralising food such as milk or hard cheese.

Brushing and flossing

Maintaining your usual oral health routine is even more important when you’re pregnant since hormonal changes mean that you have an increased susceptibility to gum inflammations and infections. Some women develop “pregnancy gingivitis”, where gums swell and become more sensitive and bleed during brushing and flossing. Should this happen to you, your dentist is able to keep a close eye on your gums and help you manage the condition. Generally this condition will resolve itself after you have your baby.

Your child’s baby teeth will start to appear, often with the central bottom teeth first, anywhere between 4 months and 10 months. Like every developmental milestone, the point at which your baby gets their teeth is an individual thing and you shouldn’t worry if their teeth appear earlier or later than other kids their age. If you have any concerns in this regard, your dentist will be able to answer any questions you might have.

When your child is teething it can be tough to make them comfortable. But a combination of loving attention, chilled but not frozen teething rings or washcloths, and dummies (don’t use honey or jam on them as this causes decay) often does the trick.

Your baby’s first dentist visit

Generally-speaking, it’s time for your baby to see the dentist for the first time when their first tooth becomes visible or when they reach 12 months of age – whichever comes first. While you might think it’s not necessary to book an appointment until your baby has a full set of teeth, which usually takes place by the age of 3, the earlier your child visits the dentist the better. Usually, your child’s first visit to the dentist will involve the taking of their full medical history, and possible discussions about:

  • Teething
  • Brushing techniques
  • Bite (how your children’s teeth come together)
  • Habits such as thumb sucking
  • The risk of decay and how to prevent it
  • Prevention of traumatic injury to your child’s mouth
  • Nutritional advice

Always be positive about these visits, never use the dentist as a deterrent for bad behaviour such as not brushing teeth, and remember that the dental team is well-trained in dealing with babies and young children.

Brushing your baby’s teeth

Dental health is an ongoing process throughout a child’s life and you should begin by modelling good dental health practices early on so your child sees them as a normal part of life. Even if your child only has a few teeth, bacteria can get in and start causing decay, so you should start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth erupts. One great way to get your child used to teeth cleaning is to wipe their gums with a soft cloth twice a day.

As soon as the teeth appear, you can switch to using a soft children’s brush, with no toothpaste until 18 months of age, while your child lies on your lap or on a bed. And yes flossing is necessary; your dentist can show you the correct technique.

If you’re the parent of a toddler, you’ll be well aware that you’re in possession of a full-speed-ahead bundle of energy. Getting them to do anything can be a challenge, but when it comes to their oral health, it’s important that you teach them early on that they need to look after their teeth and gums.

Get started early

Waiting until your child has a full set of teeth before they visit the dentist for the first time might seem sensible, but the general rule of thumb is that this visit should happen by 12 months old or when their first tooth becomes visible. Early dental visits will help protect your child from tooth decay by educating you on what you need to do to keep their teeth healthy.

Brushing your child’s teeth

One of the first things your dentist will discuss with you is the importance of teaching you how to brush and floss your child’s teeth. Initially using just cold water on a soft children’s toothbrush – toothpaste can be used from around 18 months of age – you should gently brush each tooth and massage the gum using a soft, circular motion.

And yes, even flossing is necessary as soon as two teeth touch; your dentist can show you the correct technique if you’re not sure. You can make cleaning your toddler’s teeth more fun by creating a brushing game, put on their favourite song or find a toothbrush or toothpaste with a beloved TV character on it.

Stopping the rot

Kids will often put a fight when it comes to cleaning their teeth but the reality is if it’s not done regularly, tooth decay can set in, with a host of painful problems resulting including the removal of teeth in extreme cases.

Along with a twice-daily regime of brushing and flossing, try to limit their consumption of sugary foods and drinks such as lollies, soft drinks, and even savoury biscuits, snack bars and muffins. If you do give your child a snack – it’s best to stick to meal times only and limit grazing – choose unprocessed food like vegetables, cheeses and lean meats.

Checking for decay

You can easily check the state of your child’s teeth by lifting their top and bottom lips and checking for white patches, which are the early warning signs for decay, and can be reversed. Grey, brown or black spots indicate more serious decay; in either case, book an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.

It’s never too early to begin teaching good oral hygiene to your children. Behaviours learnt when they’re young tend to stick with them throughout life.

The need for this is increasingly important with tooth decay among children on the rise, with more than half of all 6 year olds having some decay in their baby and adult teeth, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Where to start

You should start caring for your child’s oral health from when they’re a baby and into their toddler years so by the time they reach 3 years of age or so, they are well-versed in what it takes to keep their teeth healthy. They will require assistance from you until about the age of 7 or 8 but even then, it’s a good idea to supervise them when they’re brushing and flossing their teeth.

There are a number of key things to keep in mind when it comes to keeping your kids’ teeth in tip-top condition.

Baby teeth matter

Yes, they eventually fall out to make way for adult teeth but that doesn’t mean cleaning them isn’t important. If decay causes them to be removed, it can cause crowding problems with their adult teeth emerge. So ensure they brush their teeth twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, which they shouldn’t swallow, remembering to brush for at least two minutes at a time. Try using an egg timer to make keeping time fun for your child. Flossing, with parental assistance until the age of 10 or when they are deft enough to do it themselves, should start as soon as children have two teeth in contact.

Regular dentist visits

Kicking off at the age of 1 at the latest, or within 6 months of the first tooth appearing, your child should see their dentist regularly and understand that visiting them is an important part of growing up. If you receive benefits such as Family Tax Benefit A payments, you can take advantage of government programs such as the Child Dental Benefits Schedule.

Good eating and drinking habits

To develop strong teeth, your children need a healthy, balanced diet made up of fresh foods such as vegetables, cheese and lean meats, minimal high-sugar foods such as biscuits and muesli bars, and fluoridated tap water.

Dental trauma

Accidents happen! And when they do, your kids’ teeth may get knocked out or damaged. Familiarising yourself with dental first aid means that you will be well prepared for handling dental trauma correctly.

Future in doubt

The federal government has recently indicated that it intends to close down this vitally-important Scheme down in this year’s May budget. While it may seem like a simply cost saving measure to the government, the reality is that many children are going to lose access to free dental treatments if the Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS) ceases to exist.

As parents, we’d strongly encourage you to use every means at your disposal, including signing the ADA’s petition, to send a loud-and-clear message to the decision makers in Canberra that the CDBS is too important to be consigned to oblivion.

The scheme

As a parent, making sure your child is as healthy as possible is understandably one of your highest priorities.

The Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS) has been introduced by the federal government to make that task a little easier if you receive benefits such as Family Tax Benefit A payments. The CDBS helps you keep your kids’ teeth in great shape by providing you with up to $1000 that you can use over a two calendar year period on a range of dental services including examinations, routine cleaning, fillings, and root canals.

What the CDBS doesn’t cover, however, are orthodontic (the straightening of crooked teeth), cosmetic dental procedures (the restoration or replacement of damaged or missing teeth), or any work that might need to be done in a hospital. If you aren’t sure what’s covered, just ask your dentist.
 
Your child’s eligibility

Your child is deemed eligible for the CDBS by Medicare, who administers the program, if:

  • they’re within the applicable age range for at least some of that year
  • they qualify for Medicare;
  • and you receive either Family Tax Benefit Part A, Parenting payment or Double Orphan Pension payments for at least some of that year.

Your child can still access CDBS services throughout a particular calendar year regardless even if your circumstances change. Even so, it’s still worth confirming with Medicare that your child still qualifies for CDBS before phoning your dentist to book an appointment.

Keep in mind that not all dentists perform services under the CDBS; it’s best to check with your dentist if they do prior to booking in for treatment.

Using your $1000 allocation

To ensure that you’re aware of the costs upfront, your dentist will explain all probable expenses and get your consent in writing before treatment begins. If there’s any additional work needed following the initial examination, the costs will again be outlined and your consent obtained. This means you can then decide how quickly or slowly you use your $1000 allocation; you can use it all at once if you need to, or spread the spending out over the two calendar years.

If you’re not sure how much of your allocation you have left to use, your dentist can look that up for you, and let you know if you’ll be up for any out-of-pocket expenses.

Find out more

To discover more about this beneficial program, and whether your child is eligible, call Medicare on 132 011 or visit the Department of Human Services website.

If you have a child with a cleft lip or palate, they may be eligible for The Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Scheme, a government initiative designed to help families with surgical and dental services.

To be eligible for the service, your child must:

  • Have a cleft lip or cleft palate condition
  • Be enrolled in Medicare
  • Be registered for the Scheme prior to turning 22
  • Receive treatment prior to the age of 28 (the only exception is for repairs to previously-completed reconstructive work which, with approval, can be done after this age)
  • If your child fits these criteria, you must apply to the Department of Health for inclusion in the Scheme, a process which involves applying by mail with supporting medical documents, with a nominated payment option.
  • If your child is eligible, you’ll be registered and will be sent a Prescribed Patient Card by Medicare – you can then seek treatment at a dentist who participates in the Scheme.

At the dentist

It’s important to check ahead of booking an appointment whether your dentist performs work under the Scheme. If they don’t, you won’t receive any of the benefits and may find yourself with an unexpected bill.

The type of treatments carried out by dentists, and orthodontists (specialists in straightening teeth), under the Scheme include general dental tooth replacement/restoration services, teeth extraction, straightening or aligning teeth, and surgery on the mouth, jaws or face.

It’s also worth noting that, quite apart from any work done under the Scheme, you need to ensure your child sees their dentist for regular check-ups as children with cleft palate have a greater incidence of dental decay than normal.

If you would like further information on the Scheme, please contact Medicare on 13 20 11 or 1300 652 492 or visit the Department of Human Services website.

There’s a lot going on in your mouth that is not visible to the naked eye, and dental X-rays allow your dentist to see what’s happening below the surface. By taking X-rays, your dentist is provided with a comprehensive assessment of the health of your mouth.

No visible signs of trouble

Tooth decay can be sneaky – it doesn’t tend to show physical signs of its presence early on. X-rays are an important diagnostic tool that allows your dentist to confirm if you have tooth decay, or if you have any problems such as infection around the roots of the tooth, or bone loss. Spotting it early means your dentist can deal with the problem before it becomes a significant issue.

Safe for everyone

Regardless of whether you’re a child or an adult, you can have X-rays safely taken of the inside and outside of your mouth. The amount of radiation involved is extremely low, and is equivalent to the sort of exposure you’d receive on a 1-2 hour flight. This means that even if you’re pregnant you can have X-rays taken, although they are generally kept to a minimum during this period.

Oh, and that thing about your dentist leaving the room while the X-rays are taken? Nothing to worry about there – they’re taking lots of X-rays all day long and stepping out of the room limits their ongoing exposure to radiation.

Why X-rays are needed

The types of X-rays your dentist will take will depend on the conditions they are assessing you for. The decision to take an X-ray, and the type of X-ray taken, will be influenced by such things as your past and present oral health, an examination of your mouth, your age, risk of disease and any early symptoms of oral disease.

What can dental X-rays detect?

  •   Small areas of decay between teeth not visible in the mouth
    •    Problems with existing fillings, root canals, crowns or bridges
    •    The presence and severity of gum disease
    •    Abscesses or other sorts of infections
    •    Tooth development issues such as malformed teeth, extra or missing teeth etc.
    •    Cysts and some types of tumours
    •    Traumatic injuries such as tooth and bone fractures
    •    Proximity of teeth to nerves and sinuses
    •    The development of wisdom teeth and if there is a need for them to be removedIf an X-ray uncovers decay, your dentist will likely opt for fillings as the preferred treatment.

“Accidents happen” is one of those phrases we casually throw around without thinking. But the reality is that accidents can have quite serious consequences for our teeth. The good news is that much of the trauma of dental injury can be minimised if you know what precautions to take and what to do in the unfortunate event you suffer damage to your teeth.

Don’t assume anything 

Teeth can be cracked, chipped or become loose from accidents in ways not visible to the naked eye, and failure to get them checked out quickly by your dentist may mean sustaining otherwise-avoidable long term damage. But there’s also quite a bit you can do before you reach the dentist.

Children

You only need to be around babies or toddlers for a second to realise that bumps, knocks and spills are a standard part of growing up. If your child knocks out a tooth, quickly following these steps can minimise any long term damage:

1. Find the tooth, make sure it’s clean and hold it by the crown only, not the root.
2. Place the tooth back in position, making sure it’s facing the right way round (if it’s a baby tooth, don’t place it back in.)
3. Get to your dentist straight away, and if you can’t replant the tooth, transport it in milk or saliva.

Dental trauma can also take other forms.

If your child develops a toothache, book an appointment with your dentist straight away; in the meantime, rinse your child’s mouth with salt water, use paracetamol to alleviate pain and if there’s swelling present, use a cold compress. This doesn’t apply to babies who are teething.

If your child’s braces or retainer becomes broken or bent, they shouldn’t wear it again until it’s been fitted or adjusted by their orthodontist.

Adults

Again, the key thing is to act quickly so get to your dentist as quickly as possible, ideally within 30 minutes.

1. Find the tooth and hold it by the crown only, not the root.
2. If the tooth is dirty, rinse it in milk but don’t scrub or soak it.
3. Place the tooth back in position, making sure it’s facing the right way round; once in, gently bite down on soft cloth or tissue, or use aluminium foil or your mouthguard to hold it in place.
4. If you can’t replant the tooth, transport it in milk or saliva.

If you play sports (this also applies to children and teenagers), it’s also a good idea to get a custom-fitted mouthguard made by your dentist to minimise the chance of any damage resulting in the first place. In cases of dental trauma, check if your usual dentist handles emergency treatments; if not, use Find a Dentist to locate a practice to assist you.

Tooth decay is usually easily avoided these days, thanks in large part to the use of fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral which plays a critical role in strengthening the ability of your teeth to fight off the effects of decay.

All natural and effective

Fluoride is not an artificial compound or some sort of medication, but rather a naturally-occurring mineral that’s found in rocks and soil, vegetables and grains, as well as in fresh and salt water. The fluoride found in the environment however is not sufficient on its own to protect your teeth, which is why small supplemental amounts are added to the water supply, as well as into toothpaste, gels and other dental products.

Protecting your teeth

Fluoride is crucial to combatting tooth decay. It gives your teeth extra strength when they’re developing so they’re better able to resist the bacterial acid that causes tooth decay and it slows the growth of bacteria in your mouth known as plaque which leads to tooth decay.

While brushing with fluoridated toothpaste is the most effective way to receive fluoride, taking it through tap water has a considerable effect on the ability of your teeth to fight decay. If you need a fluoride top-up, and most people in fluoridated areas won’t, your dentist can apply high-fluoride products such as gels, foams and varnishes to your teeth.

Your dentist may also suggest the use of fluoride supplements, particularly in areas where water fluoridation isn’t practised.

It’s in the water

Fluoride has been added to water supplies in many Australian towns and cities since the mid-1960s and is often hailed as one of the great public health achievements of the last century. It has proven so effective at reducing tooth decay among children and adults that health and dental organisations around the world such as the Centers for Disease Control, and the Australian Medical Association strongly back its use.

It’s good for you

Fluoride consumption has been scientifically-proven to be of extensive benefit to consumers, with negligible adverse reactions. While “dental fluorosis”, small flecks which appear on tooth enamel, can result from ingesting too much fluoride, it’s rarely visible, and does not damage teeth and usually only results when young children are exposed to large amounts of adult strength fluoride toothpaste.

Overall, the benefits of fluoride are considerable. It remains the most cost-effective, fair and naturally-occurring way to keep your teeth healthy. And remember, to make the most of the advantages it affords you, you need to brush twice a day, maintain a healthy, balanced diet, and visit your friendly dentist on a regular basis.

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