Parents often have questions about how to take care of their children’s teeth. They know they want to prevent cavities, but they may not always know how best to do it. Knowing the answers to these questions can help you keep your kids’ teeth cavity free. Maintaining a set of healthy teeth starts from young.
Why baby teeth matter?
First and foremost, healthy baby teeth allow children to eat well and enjoy a wide range of food, essential for maintaining a balanced diet.
Conversely, an unhealthy set of baby teeth can cost a child his set of permanent ones. During the transitional stage of “mixed dentition”, when the child is aged between 6 and 12, bacteria may spread from the baby teeth to the permanent ones.
Baby teeth, especially the molars, or back teeth, help guide the growth of permanent ones. When a decayed molar is extracted, the permanent one growing behind it tents to “migrate” forward, causing the front teeth to crowd together and grow up in a crooked line. The child may then need orthodontic (braces) intervention in the future. The spaces in between the teeth can also trap food debris and make brushing difficult, causing tooth decay.
A set of healthy, beautiful teeth increases a child’s confidence and helps in the child’s social and personal development.
Children can miss school lessons because of dental problems or related conditions. Dental pain can distract students, cause their schoolwork to suffer or even lead to school absences.
When should I bring my child for his first dental visit?
A baby erupts his first tooth at around 6 months, and gets a brand new set of 20 baby teeth by the time he turns 2. While these will drop off gradually when he is between 6 and 12 years old, it is important to take good care of them.
According to the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry, it is recommended that children be brought to see their dentist as part of their first year birthday celebrations.
Generally, a simple check-up is performed to ensure the teeth are growing well.
The aim is to introduce the child to Dentistry, and the pleasure and fun associated with seeing a dentist. Dental care is best introduced when there is no pain. The first dental visit is similar to a visit to a new friend.
Unfortunately, most parents do not think it is necessary to get their child to the dental chair early. In fact, if you ask parents when they feel they should bring their children for their first dental visit, most would probably suggest between 2 to 6 years of age. Some may even delay it till their children enter primary school, where dental appointments become compulsory. This is no wonder why many pre-schoolers enter primary school with “holes” in their teeth. When it comes to taking their children to the dentist, most parent here hold a knee-jerk attitude —seek help only when there is a problem.
The problem usually appears in the form of a toothache, or sensitivity when taking cold drinks or biting on food. However, this attitude can result in the child associating a dental visit as something distressful and painful. The association may last for life. Parents who grew up with a fear of dental visits may also pass it on to their children.
Annual dental visits by children from young can have numerous advantages. It will allow any abnormal problems, eg growing one extra tooth on the upper jaw, and one fewer on the lower jaw, to be picked up early. Bad habits such as thumb sucking can also be nipped in the bud.
What are some common dental problems or habits in children?
Thumb sucking may lead to an “ open bite” where the upper and lower teeth do not meet when the child tries to place his teeth together. The air escapes through the gap between the teeth and may affect his speech enunciation. Thumb sucking is perfectly normal for infants; most stop by age 2. If your child does not, discourage it after age 4. Prolonged thumb sucking can create crowded, crooked teeth, or bite problems. Do visit your dentist for advice on ways to prevent thumb sucking and the possible treatment or correction for anterior open bite.
By far, the most common problem that causes cavities in young teeth, especially among those aged 1 to 3, is the “Early Childhood Caries” (also known as “ Baby Bottle Tooth Decay” or Nursing Bottle Caries ). It can happen to babies whose mothers breastfeed them whenever they demand it, or when harried and tired working parents send their crying children to bed with their milk bottle. While both mother’s milk and bottled milk provide important nutrients like calcium, vitamins and proteins, they also contain harmful sugars. When these build up in the mouth, they create a fertile environment for “ bad” bacteria to flourish. This in turn, generates more acid in the mouth. As saliva production is reduced drastically during sleep, there is not much left to neutralize the acid and thus, causing tooth decay. The decayed teeth may have to be filled or removed. While new teeth may grow 6 to 12 years later, being toothless may draw unwanted attention and mocking from friends and lower the child’s confidence. Worse, without his front teeth, he may have problem pronouncing certain words accurately, resulting in speech problems.
How to prevent these dental problems?
Send the baby to bed with a bottle of water instead of milk. Water will rinse off any accumulated sugars on the surfaces of the teeth and dilute the acid.
Starting from birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush and water. Remember that most small children do not have the dexterity to brush their teeth effectively. Generally, try not to use fluoridated toothpaste until age 2-3 or when the child is able to spit out the toothpaste. Use cotton gauze or brush to wipe the bacteria off the teeth
Wean the baby off his bottle when he is 1 or 2 years old. He is more likely to be awake when drinking from a cup. Being awake, he will produce enough saliva to neutralize any acid formed by “bad” bacteria. This can reduce the risk of tooth decay.
Parents who like to taste their babies food before feeding their child may be doing more harm than good. They may be passing on bacteria, especially if they have decaying teeths themselves.
Babies between the ages of 18 and 30 months are the most susceptible to bacteria infection, probably because their molars are erupting during this period. The grooves in the molars are more conducive for bacteria growth, unlike the smooth surfaces of the front teeth.
Be aware of frequent snacking in your children.
Tips on overcoming dental fear in children:
Do not share your negative dental experiences with your children.
Make it fun. Play “dentist” with the child. Count the number of teeth in your child’s mouth. Reverse roles and allow your child to be the “dentist”
Refrain from portraying the dentist as a villain or using dental visits as a punishment for their bad behaviour. Make their first dental visit a pleasant, fun and memorable one.
You, as intelligent and loving parents, are in a unique position to start your child off, very early, to a lifetime of good dental care. Prevention is the key to good dental health. Part of this prevention is being informed. Bringing your child in for their first visit early is the cornerstone to wonderful dental experiences for a lifetime