How to help caregivers understand prevention of caries in children

There are many things that you and your dentist can do to help your children have strong, healthy teeth; one of those things is using dental sealants for children.

Dental sealants are a thin coating made from special plastic that is applied to the grooves on the chewing surfaces of the teeth in the back of the mouth. The back teeth are the ones that are most likely to show signs of decay, so it is important to take this extra step to help protect them. Sealants help keep food particles and germs from getting stuck in the grooves of these teeth, which can cause decay.

The sealants are usually applied as soon as your child's permanent molars come in between the ages of 6 and 12 years old. Once those molars have erupted, it is a good idea to have your dentist apply the sealants as soon as possible.

Sealants are applied at the dentist's office, and the procedure is often fast and painless. There is no drilling or removal of any part of the tooth structure during the process. First, the tooth is cleaned and dried, and then coated with a special gel. When the gel dries, the tooth is then brushed with sealant resin, which is then also allowed to dry. Sealants can be white, clear, or slightly tinted to match the colour of the tooth, and are not typically noticed when you laugh, talk, or smile.

These sealants often last for 5 to 10 years and should be checked by your child's dental professional when you take them in for regular visits. Using dental sealants for children, combined with good oral hygiene habits, healthy eating, and regular professional dental checks are a great way to help keep your child's teeth healthy and strong throughout their lives.

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Children learn by example and setting up great oral hygiene habits is one of the best things that you can do for your child’s oral health. Starting early, setting a good example, making brushing a fun activity and limiting sugary food and drinks are all easy things that you can do right now to create healthy habits for your child’s oral care.

Start early

It’s never too early to start thinking about your child’s oral care. In fact, the skills that you teach your child today will stay with them throughout their entire life. Even before your child’s first teeth appear, you can take care to wipe their gums with a clean damp gauze or a washcloth. This will help to keep gums clean and get your child accustomed to having you clean their mouth.

Once your child’s teeth appear, use a soft toothbrush and a baby toothpaste to clean them twice a day. You can start teaching your child how to brush their teeth when they are aged two or three. Most toddlers want to try to brush by themselves, which is fine. Just be sure to brush their teeth for them again when they have finished. As your child grows, check that you are using a paste with an age-appropriate amount of fluoride to protect the teeth from decay. Again, choose a soft-bristled toothbrush and talk to them about why oral care is important.

By the time your child is seven or eight, they should be able to brush their teeth on their own. Remember to keep an eye on their brushing technique and make suggestions as they will probably miss areas towards the back of their mouth.

Set a good example

Children look to their parents and other adults for positive behavioural cues. That’s why setting a good oral health care example is one of the best things that you can do for your child. Research shows that having a supportive family member who models healthy oral care behaviour directly influences a child’s oral health care habits. (i)

The next time you’re brushing and flossing your own teeth, take the time to let your child see what you are doing. Talk to him or her about the importance of looking after their teeth and gums and remember to use positive language when you talk about oral care and dental visits. If good dental health habits are part of your daily life, they will become a normal part of your child’s life too.

Make brushing fun and rewarding

Making brushing a fun and rewarding activity is a great way to develop healthy oral care habits in your child. Most children are not motivated by long-term results, so think about creating shorter term rewards. For example, toddlers and young children tend to respond well to positive reinforcement. Consider offering an extra bedtime story or a special activity as a reward. Many older children respond well to stickers and star charts. Choose something that is fun and meaningful for your child and stick to it. Just be sure that you are not rewarding them with a sugary treat!

Limit sugary food and drinks

Limiting sugar consumption is a great way to keep your child’s oral care on track. The Australian Dental Association advises that lollies, soft drinks, and biscuits should be kept to a minimum, and healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables should be encouraged throughout childhood in order to create a model for healthy behavior in the future.

Encouraging your child to eat regular meals rather than constantly snacking is also helpful. A recent longitudinal study which tracked both oral hygiene and dietary habits in young children found that children who constantly snacked throughout the day had a higher chance of dental decay. (ii)

Remember, children who get into the habit of taking care of their teeth from an early age are much better equipped to have great oral health as they get older. Now is the time to set a great example for your child!


i Duijster D, de Jong-Lenters M, Verrips E, van Loveren C. Establishing oral health promoting behaviours in children - parents' views on barriers, facilitators and professional support: a qualitative study. BMC Oral Health. 2015;15:157. Published 2015 Dec 10. doi:10.1186/s12903-015-0145-0 [] Accessed 19 August 2020

ii Skafida V, Chambers S. Positive association between sugar consumption and dental decay prevalence independent of oral hygiene in pre-school children: a longitudinal prospective study. J Public Health (Oxf). 2018;40(3):e275-e283. doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdx184 [] Accessed 19 August 2020