Meet Helen Clint – Helen’s been a qualified dentist for 14 years, working in an NHS family dental practice. She’s also mum to two – a little boy (5) and a daughter (2). Like many of us, Helen relied on parenting forums and websites for resources whilst pregnant and in the early days of parenthood – but found the advice often overwhelming and inaccurate. As a dentist, she also noticed an obvious gap – there was no information out there on dental health for babies and toddlers.
So, relying on her experience and knowledge, Helen set out on a mission to educate and help families about oral health – and empower them to make healthier choices for their children.
We sat down with Helen to pick her brain on all things dental – and here are the main takeaways. You can find lots more amazing resources on her blog!
Did you know?
Almost 1 in 4 children will start school with tooth decay – and dental extractions in 6-10 year old children is the most common reason for hospital admission. Let that sink in for a second!
Sugar can be lurking…
It’s no surprise that sugar is a contributing factor for tooth decay – but what may come as a surprise is that even the healthier options can be high in sugar. ‘When you factor in nursery snacks, dried fruit, treats from family members and children’s parties it can really start to add up,’ Helen explains.
Thinking beyond teething
‘Parents readily seem to talk about teething and babies getting their first teeth,’ Helen says. ‘But conversations around when to start brushing teeth and when to take children to the dentist isn’t as typical. I firmly believe that starting to look after your children’s teeth when they come through will set them up for good oral health for life.’
The Weaning + Teething Synergy
Weaning and ‘teething’ are milestones that often coincide - children usually start getting their first teeth at around 6 months of age, when current guidelines also advise for weaning to start. ‘We should start thinking about our children’s teeth when we start weaning,’ Helen says, ‘As giving your children a sweet preference for foods and drinks (including fruit juices) will likely only lead to dental problems in the future.’
Helen’s top tips for promoting healthy habits and good oral health during weaning:
1. Avoid adding sugar, fruit juices and fruit puree to baby food and recipes
Honey is not recommended before 12 months, but even after should be avoided – by cutting down on these ingredients, you can reduce sugar content and sweetness. Sugar fruits, including dried fruit, fruit-flavoured yoghurts, and cereals) should not be provided between meals (it’s better for your teeth to eat your sugar as part of a meal).
2. Breast milk, infant formula and water should be the only drinks offered to children between 6 and 12 months of age.
Resist the urge to offer squash or juice. Drinks other than milk, water or very dilute fruit juice (1 part juice to 10 parts water) are not recommended for children under 5 years of age. Only milk and plain water should be offered between meals.
Drinks (yikes, including the evening milk as well!) should be offered in an open or free-flow cup.
3. Focus on the veg
Children have a natural preference for sweet tastes, but in the first 20 months of life they are very receptive to new tastes – a goal of weaning should be to expose your baby to other and unusual flavours. So try to offer vegetables as first foods without combining with fruit – to train their palette to accept bitter, non-sweet tastes.
4. Read your labels
Because of the sugar content of most pouches, the ideal is to home cook all food for baby (and if you’re struggling with that – we can help!).
When purchasing baby foods, double-check that the order of ingredients on the back of the pack reflects the title on the front – by law, ingredients must be listed by weight, and often a pouch that is labelled as a veggie one can actually contain around 80% fruit!
Try and purchase pouches which don’t use fruit juices in their ingredients. Avoid letting your child feed though the nozzle to avoid prolonged contact with teeth - using a spoon to feed instead.
5. Snack smarter.
Dentists advise a maximum of two low sugar snacks in between meals to reduce the frequency of sugar consumption. Opt for whole fruit or veg, cheese, hummus, pitta and whole grain toast as snacks.
Commercial baby finger foods are packaged and marketed as snacks – but around 2/3 of products on the market are very, very sweet – and many contain added sugars and dried fruits.
Snacks contribute to excess energy intake, and half the sugar consumed by 4-10 year olds are coming from snacks. Dried fruit should be consumed as part of a meal.
6. Brush, brush, brush.
Remember to brush your child’s teeth at least twice daily with an appropriate fluoride toothpaste and to visit your dentist regularly!