Milk teeth (also known as baby or primary teeth, that is the set of teeth you have from birth) may be temporary, but that doesn't mean they can be ignored. If you can help children to establish good oral care habits from a young age, these can stick with them all through their lives.
Losing teeth early to decay or accidents can affect how a child's permanent teeth develop, as well as possibly impacting on their ability to eat and speak. That's why children's dentistry focuses on preventing problems before they have a chance to develop in the first place.
Here are four ways caring parents can help to lower their child's risk of oral health problems and dental injuries.
1. Encourage good oral hygiene habits
Tooth decay is a growing problem in Australia, with nearly half of five and six-year-olds having experienced decay in their primary teeth, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The good news is that tooth decay is a preventable condition that may be avoided or reversed by improving oral hygiene. This means teaching your kids to brush their teeth twice a day, flossing every night and following a teeth-friendly diet.
They'll probably need help with brushing until the age of 7 or 8. Even with older children, it's a good idea to supervise or brush together to make sure they're brushing properly for the recommended two minutes.
2. Cut down on sugar to combat decay
Sugar contributes to tooth decay by feeding bacteria living in the mouth in plaque. These convert sugar into acids that can erode the surface of teeth and create cavities.
While sugary lollies and other sweet snacks should be discouraged for health reasons, it's often sugary and acidic drinks that can be a particular problem for teeth. A Roy Morgan survey of children aged 6–13 found that almost two-thirds drink fruit juice and more than half consume fizzy soft drinks in a typical week.
To lower the risk of tooth decay, children should be encouraged to drink water (especially fluoridated tap water) or milk that contains calcium, to help strengthen their teeth and protect against plaque.
3. Protect their teeth with fissure sealants
Even if children brush and floss correctly, food and bacteria can still get trapped inside small grooves (fissures) on teeth surfaces that can be difficult to reach. Their dentist may offer fissure sealants as a preventive treatment to fill in these grooves.
Dental sealants create a smoother surface on the chewing teeth (molars) that's easier to clean, helping to lower their risk of tooth decay. Sealants may be applied to baby teeth or permanent molars, though they are generally only applied to primary teeth in children who are at high-risk of dental caries.
4. Prevent dental injuries with a sports mouthguard
If your child plays contact sports, in school or in their spare time, organisations such as the Australian Dental Association (ADA) and Sports Medicine Australia advise that they wear a custom-fitted mouthguard provided by their dentist.
Custom mouthguards offer better protection than boil-and-bite mouthguards bought from stores, as they can be designed by your child's dentist to be the exact shape of their bite. Mouthguards are recommended for rugby, hockey and other activities that could put your child's mouth at risk of injury.
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 Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (AIHW). Dental decay among Australian children [Online] 2011 [Accessed Jul 2018] Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/dental-oral-health/dental-decay-among-australian-children/contents/table-of-contents
 Roy Morgan. Roy Morgan Young Australians Survey, July 2015-June 2016 [Online] 2017 [Accessed June 2018] Available from: http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/7101-sweet-drinks-much-more-popular-with-kids-than-older-aussies-201701031624
 Dental Health Services Victoria. Food and drink for healthy teeth [Online] 2009 [Accessed June 2018] Available from: https://www.dhsv.org.au/dental-advice/teeth-tips-and-facts/food-and-drink
 Better Health Channel. Dental sealants [Online] 2018 [Accessed June 2018] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/dental-sealants
 Australian Dental Association. "No Mouthguard, No Play," says Australia's dentists and sports medicine specialists [Online] 2015 [Accessed June 2018] Available from: https://www.ada.org.au/News-Media/News-and-Release/Media-Releases/No-Mouthguard,-no-play,-says-Australia-s-dentist