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Caring for the Teeth of Toddlers and Young Children

Toddlers, ages 1 to 3 years, should be given three main meals a day, like adults. They can now eat a variety of foods and will begin to decide which foods look inviting. Sometimes, he/she may continue to drink from a bottle and have a bottle at bedtime, which is a cause of tooth decay among children in this age group. Tooth decay can lead to premature loss of baby teeth and cause the below issues.

• Chewing problems can result in nutritional deficiencies.

• Decay in the upper front teeth can result in speech problems

• Decay in baby teeth also affects adult teeth, such as being twisted or overlapping the wrong way because the baby teeth determine the space in which the future permanent teeth will grow.

It is important for children to stop drinking from a bottle and having a bottle at bedtime as soon as possible. You should try to break your baby’s bottle habit during the first year of age.


The longer you keep giving your baby a bedtime bottle, the harder it seems to break the bottle habit. You can do it gradually, or you can make your baby go cold turkey. However, breaking the bottle habit should be done on non-working days because the crying may last for hours. To save you and your toddler from tears, remember that a baby who is ready to sit up is ready to drink from a cup.

Information from Dentists

Falling and hitting a baby’s tooth can make the tooth become loose, causing chewing problems. If a tooth is badly broken, it must be removed and may affect the development of adult teeth. This is because injuries to baby teeth can cause damage to the adult teeth that are forming in the jaws. The possible damage includes discolored teeth (white or brown), rough teeth, and misshapen teeth such as curved front teeth. However, the level of damage depends on the severity of the initial injury.

Sucking a thumb or fingers can affect development of occlusion by putting pressure against the front teeth and causing them to protrude. This is common during the first year of age and children generally quit sucking their thumbs at about 2 to 4 years. If they quit sucking before the age of 4 years, the buck teeth will only be temporary. However, if the sucking continues after the age of 4 years, the buck teeth will be permanent. Therefore, you should take your child to seek appropriate advice from a doctor if your child’s sucking habit continues after 4 years of age.

Caring for your toddler’s teeth

• You should break your child’s bottle habit during the first year of age.

• You should be involved in brushing your child’s teeth until he/she is 7 years of age.

• 3-year old children can use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and dental floss should be used to clean between their teeth.

• If your child wants to brush his/her teeth by himself/herself, you should first check whether he/she has developed the fine motor skills needed to control small muscles. For example, can your child tie his/her shoelaces and color inside the lines?

For pre-school children older than 3 years of age, you can start to see the development of your child’s dental structure at this age. Children have 20 primary teeth and molar teeth will be moving closer together. At about the age of 6 years, the first permanent teeth erupt. Usually, the lower front incisors (as with the primary teeth) or the molar teeth will erupt first. The lower front permanent incisors develop below and towards the tongue side of the primary teeth (coming in overlapping while the primary teeth are still there). The tongue will then push the permanent tooth forward into position. In cases where the permanent tooth erupts half way or fully but the primary tooth does not fall out as expected, or if a child loses his/her appetite and cannot brush his/her teeth due to pain, the dentist can help to remove the tooth.

Information from Dentists

At about the age of 6 years, the first molar tooth erupts by pushing through the gum. Some parents mistakenly believe that these are primary teeth and will later be replaced by permanent teeth as with other primary teeth, but there is only set of permanent teeth for the molars. Approximately 80% of cavities occur there where brushing is difficult. For children in this age group, the parents should be involved in brushing and flossing between their teeth. The children should get sealants on their permanent molars as soon as these teeth come in.

Caring for your child’s teeth

• Once the first molar erupts, you should regularly open your child’s mouth and check the teeth for cavities.

• Do not worry about gums bleeding during brushing or flossing. Bleeding gums are usually a sign of gum disease and the symptoms will go away after proper cleaning.

By Wichuda Booranalertphaisan, D.D.S., Paediatric Dentist at Samitivej International Children’s Hospital – Srinakarin Campus

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