Oral health and nutrition in the early years

Share now

Early oral health education paves the way for good oral health habits and routines that can last a lifetime. Children develop quickly in the early years and a child’s early experiences between birth and age 5 have a major impact on their future. This means it’s a very good time to help children understand good oral health.

Current statistics from Public Health England reveal that almost 1 in 4 five-year-olds have dental decay, that’s 25% of under 5’s despite dental decay being almost entirely preventable!  So, how can parents and childcare practitioners best support children in good oral health? First and foremost, toothbrushing!

Early years toothbrushing 

Brushing teeth removes plaque, which is the clear sticky film that adheres to the teeth. If plaque is left on the gum/tooth surface, it can lead to gum disease and eventually tooth loss. Essentially, brushing teeth removes plaque before it can interact with any acid.

Plaque + Sugar = Acid

Acid + Tooth = Decay

It’s important to remember that it is not only the amount of sugar that can affect the teeth, but the frequency that sugars are consumed (more on this later).

How much toothpaste should be used?

Use fluoride toothpaste - Children under 3 years should use a smear of toothpaste. Children over 3 years should use a small pea sized amount on their toothbrush, providing they can spit out. If unable to spit or has swallowing difficulties a smear is recommended.

Toothpaste for young children should contain no less than 1000 ppm of fluoride - the amount of fluoride in the toothpaste can be found on the side of the tube or on the packaging.

Do not rinse after brushing, rinsing washes away the fluoride that protects the teeth.

Toothbrushing tips and recommendations 

  • Toothbrushing is recommended from when a baby’s first tooth breaks through
  • Brush at least twice a day using a small headed toothbrush, last thing before bed and at one other time.
  • Brush using small circular motions along the gum line and all tooth surfaces, ideally for 2 mins.
  • Brushing at bedtime is key so the fluoride continues to protect the teeth overnight.
  • For children over 1 year brush after their bedtime milk as milk contains natural sugars.
  • Children should be supported to brush/ help brush their teeth until they are at least 7 years old.
  • Always supervise to make sure the teeth are cleaned properly; the correct amount of toothpaste is used and to prevent your child from licking or eating the toothpaste.
  • Do not let your baby/toddler walk around with their toothbrush in their mouth as this can cause injury if they fall.
  • To begin, you might find it helpful to sit your child on your lap facing away from you, with the back of their head against your chest. Sit in front of a mirror so you/ your child can see what you are doing.
  • Make toothbrushing fun using songs, games, and lots of praise. Let your child choose a toothbrush in their favourite colour or with their favourite character on.
  • Replace the toothbrush approx. every 3 months or when bristles become sprayed.
  • As your child becomes more independent you can build upon toothbrushing routines together.
  • Regularly talk to children (age appropriate) about the importance of toothbrushing.
  • Use songs and activities to make toothbrushing fun!

When should young children visit the dentist?

It is recommended that all children have a dental check by 1 year of age, followed by regular 6 monthly check-ups (or as often as recommended by the dentist). Ideally, parents should register their child at a dentist as soon as their first tooth comes through. NHS dental treatment for children is free.

Visiting early helps children get into the habit from a young age. They can get used to the sights, sounds, and smells of a dental practice and the dentist will check normal tooth development, can pick up any problems early and support parents in looking after their child’s teeth.

It can be beneficial to help children prepare for a trip to the dentist by reading books, together, such as, such as Topsy & Tim Go to The Dentist.

Nutrition and oral health 

What children eat effects their oral health. Sugars in food and drink are one of the main contributing factors to tooth decay. Most sugars come from obvious sources i.e., chocolate, sweets, sugary drinks but some foods with high sugar content are less obvious, such as some yogurts, sauces, and breakfast cereals.

It’s always best to opt for sugar smart snacks and meals, such as those from Nursery Kitchen, while children are at nursery school. When children are at home, ideally parents should check the labels of the food they serve to ensure the food is low in sugar or does not contain free sugars. Fruit, veg and wholemeal snacks are typically a safe option.

Where possible, sugar free teething gels and temperature reducing medicines should be used.

Talk to children (age appropriate) about the importance of healthy eating and drinking as often as possible, discussing which foods help to grow strong teeth and which do not. Food tasting and cooking sessions are a great way to teach children where food comes from and promote healthy eating.

Drinks for good oral health in the early years

Young children should be given water or milk as these drinks do not contain free sugars and are therefore best for oral and overall health. Children should have six to eight 120ml-150ml drinks each day to ensure they are hydrated.

It is recommended to introduce a free flow cup from 6 months, with the aim to eliminate the use of a bottle by 1 year. Prolonged bottle use has been linked to tooth decay. Prolonged sucking on a teat/ dummy can also change the shape of the teeth and jaw which can affect speech development.

When a child drinks from an open top cup/ Doidy cup, the liquid is sipped (rather than sucked) so goes to the back of their mouth instead of pooling around the front teeth. Therefore, there is less risk of tooth decay.

Sugarwise Platinum Certification

Nursery Kitchen are the first early years food caterer to achieve Sugarwise Certification, and at platinum level, no less! This means that our menu has been certified as containing zero free sugars and low sugar overall.

Want to read more?

super duper tuna recipe
Introducing our super duper tuna pasta! Pair it with a side of bread, unsalted butter, and a medley of fresh vegetables...
lamb moussaka recipe
Our lamb moussaka is inspired by the delightful tastes of Greek cuisine. What do we love about our lamb moussaka?  This...
squash and sage barley risotto recipe
Forget about rice in our ‘risotto’! Our secret ingredient is pearl barley, which adds a fun chewiness and yummy flavour. With...
1 2 3 21