Kids’ teeth are still developing and may need extra care, so be sure you know how to guide them and what to expect from children’s dental visits.
A specialist paediatric dentist or an oral health therapist may provide your child’s dental care, although kids can get care from general dentists too. Most dental professionals will focus on checking for any problems or developmental issues, as well as educating your little ones on how to keep their teeth and gums healthy at home.
Tooth decay in young children is common in Australia.1 Sugary diets and inconsistent oral hygiene routines can worsen the problem, so it’s important to help your child look after their teeth and gums. Some of the best ways to do this are regular dental visits, good oral hygiene and a healthy diet.
When should children visit the dentist?
Kids should see a dentist for a check-up around their first birthday, or within 6 months of getting their first tooth. A kids' dentist or oral health therapist will check that their teeth are coming through normally, look for any possible warning signs of problems and give you advice about how to care for your child's teeth at home.
Your child's dentist will recommend how often they should visit for a check-up and clean based on their oral health needs.
Dental treatments for kids
Many dental professionals aim to make dental visits a positive experience for kids. Often, this involves helping them develop positive associations with the dental clinic or just letting them get comfortable with a new environment and new people. A lot of professionals who focus on kids’ dental will have special techniques, games, toys and devices for entertaining children or putting them at ease.
Dental exams for kids
A dentist or oral health therapist will check kids’ teeth, gums and tongue to check for any issues and monitor their development. Dentists usually won’t use x-rays for kids' check-ups unless there are special circumstances.
If they do notice something wrong, they should discuss the problem and treatment options with you so you can decide what's best for your child. They could also discuss preventive treatments to help minimise their risk of problems in the future.
Dentists may apply fissure sealants to the chewing teeth (molars) at the back of your child's mouth to help lower their risk of tooth decay. This involves filling the small pits and grooves on the surfaces of the teeth using a tooth-coloured resin, reducing the chance of bacteria or food getting trapped inside.
If your child does have a cavity, their dentist can fill in the hole with a filling. This can restore the shape and strength of the tooth. Kids' fillings are usually made from glass-ionomer cement that releases fluoride, which may help protect the tooth against plaque.
Older children and teenagers who play sport and other outdoor pastimes should wear a mouthguard to protect their teeth. Organisations such as the Australian Dental Association (ADA) recommend that children use a custom mouthguard provided by their dentist, as this can offer more protection and feels more comfortable than a mouthguard bought from a store.
Is kids' dental care free in Australia?
Some children in Australia are eligible for free dental services through the Australian Government's Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS).2
This is available for parents of children aged 2–17 who receive a Medicare payment such as Family Tax Benefit Part A. It covers up to $1,000 of dental costs for check-ups and basic treatments over a two-year period.
To find out if your child is eligible for CBDS, talk to your dental clinic or check the Department of Human Services website.
Is kids' dental care free in New Zealand?
Local District Health Boards pay for basic dental services until eligible children turn 18.3 Though many New Zealander children are enrolled automatically, it’s important to double-check eligibility criteria. You should also double-check what constitutes a “basic” or “standard” service.
For more information, check the Ministry of Health’s website.
How to look after children's teeth
As well as regular dental visits, you can help your child to avoid tooth decay and cavities by looking after their oral hygiene every day.
Brushing and flossing
Children should brush their teeth twice a day and floss once a day to remove plaque and leftover food from their teeth.
Young children will need help brushing until they can move the brush themselves, usually around the age of 7. They should use children's toothpaste with low fluoride from the age of 18 months to 6 years. You should clean a baby's teeth using water only.
Cutting down on sugary snacks and drinks can lower kids’ risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Soft drinks and fruit juices can do even more damage to teeth than sugary snacks, so it's important to keep these to a minimum. If your little one likes to have the occasional sweet beverage, try to dilute the drink with water and encourage them to use a straw if they’re old enough.
For beverages, it’s better to stick with are milk and tap water.
Questions about your child’s dental health?
1 The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council. Australia’s National Oral Health Plan 2015-2024. [Online] 2015 [Accessed June 2019] Available from: www.sadental.gov.au
2 Australian Department of Human Services. Child Dental Benefits Schedule. [Online] 2019 [Accessed July 2019] Available from: www.humanservices.gov.au
3 New Zealand Government. Dental care. [Online] 2019 [Accessed July 2019] Available from: www.govt.nz
The purpose of this article is to promote better understanding of dental health topics. It’s not meant to replace professional advice or diagnosis. Always talk to a dentist, doctor or other qualified healthcare professional if you have a question about dental or medical conditions.