Teeth through the ages

Fluoride vs plaque

Plaque is the sticky, soft layer that forms on teeth every day. If left to build up, plaque causes tooth decay and gum disease. The bacteria in plaque, reacts with sugar to produce an acid that dissolves the minerals in teeth - over time this causes cavities (holes).

Cavities can cause pain and discomfort and will eventually need dental work. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste, having a healthy diet, regular check-ups and preventive treatments provided by dental therapists and dentists, will help stop plaque build-up and cavities.

Fluoride is an important weapon in the war against plaque. It is a natural element found in air, soil, fresh water, sea water, plants and lots of foods. Most of the fluoride we eat or drink comes from water, food and toothpaste. Fluoride in food, drink and our saliva continually washes over our teeth to help protect them.

Fluoride helps protect our teeth from tooth decay in two main ways:

  • it strengthens growing teeth
  • it can help fix the very early stages of decay in all teeth.

Baby teeth

Once teeth break through, it’s time to start brushing. Teeth appear at around six months of age and by the time your child is three years old, they should have their first set of teeth – 20 ‘baby’ teeth. It’s important to look after these teeth because their baby teeth hold spaces for adult teeth and guide the adult teeth into their correct position.

Decay in the baby teeth can become painful and affect your child’s eating and development. This decay can often signal that decay will develop in adult teeth. Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, after breakfast and before bed, is the best thing you can do to prevent decay.

Bottles & dummies

Sugar in sweet drinks, fizzy drinks, fruit juice or sweetened milk can harm your child’s teeth, especially at bedtime. Babies get holes in their teeth from sucking for long periods of time on bottles containing sweetened drinks, or from sleeping with a bottle in their mouth. If a baby falls asleep with a bottle in their mouth, they produce less saliva to wash away the acid that causes decay. Try to use a cup for drinks, rather than a bottle. Water or milk is best. Never dip your baby’s dummy into anything sweet as this will almost certainly lead to tooth decay. Dummies need to be clean, free of sugary substances, safe, and never shared.

Adult teeth

When your child is about six years old, the second set of teeth will begin to appear. This change continues until all the adult teeth (except the wisdom teeth) have come through at around 14 years old. As teeth develop, children need to keep up the routine of brushing twice a day and regular flossing.

The teenage years

Teenagers go through lots of changes – starting high school, starting work, leaving home and growing up. Oral health and looking after teeth is even more important during these years. Remember to encourage your teenager to continue with regular dental check-ups, which are free up to their 18th birthday. They should carry on brushing twice a day.

Sport and mouthguards

Your child should wear a mouthguard when playing sport to protect their teeth and gums. If a tooth is damaged or lost, see a dental professional straight away. If a tooth is knocked out, put it back into the socket if you can. If you can’t, keep the tooth moist by putting it into your child’s mouth next to their cheek, or in a cup of milk.

Take the tooth and your child to your dentist as quickly as possible – the dentist may be able to save your child’s tooth.

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