February is National Children’s Dental Health Month in the US, and every February thousands of dental organizations and providers take time to inform and educate the public about the importance of children’s oral health.
We have therefore decided to devote this article to raising awareness about common dental problems in children and give you some tips on how they can be prevented.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay is the single most common chronic disease among U.S. children. Left untreated, tooth decay can cause pain and infections as well as problems eating, speaking, and learning. Tooth decay is responsible for more than 51 million lost school hours each year.Unfortunately, many people still don’t realize that tooth decay, though very common in children, is almost 100 percent preventable.
Baby Teeth and Dental Problems
Baby teeth usually start to erupt at about 6 months of age, although some children don’t have their first tooth until 12 or 14 months. Most children will have all of their baby teeth by the age 3.Unfortunately, children as young as two can develop severe dental problems.
What causes tooth decay and cavities? A sticky film of bacteria, called dental plaque is constantly forming on the teeth and especially in the area where the teeth and gum meets and also on the biting surface of the teeth. When your child eats or drinks foods containing sugars or other carbohydrate, the dental plaque converts the sugars into acid. Normally the acid is neutralized by saliva but when sugary foods are eaten too frequently or at night, the saliva is not able to cope and the acid causes the enamel (outer hard white surface of tooth) to soften.
If this continues over a long period of time the plaque bacteria will penetrate through the enamel and cause softening inside the tooth. Eventually a hole or dental cavity will form. Dental decay can occur almost as soon as the first baby teeth appear. It can start very quickly when sweetened liquids, including milk, milk formula and fruit juices are given and are left clinging to an infant’s teeth for long periods.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (Early Childhood Caries)
Early Childhood Caries, sometimes known as baby bottle tooth decay, refers to severe decay in the teeth of infants or very young children. It starts with transmission of bacteria called strep mutants from another family member who has dental decay.
The condition is also associated with infants who breast-fed for a long time or with children whose pacifiers are frequently dipped in honey, sugar or syrup. The sweet fluids left in the mouth feed the bacteria on the teeth while the infant is sleeping. This results in dental decay spreading very quickly through the teeth.
How can I prevent baby bottle tooth decay?
First, never allow children to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, juice or other sweetened liquids. A bottle given at night-time should only contain boiled cooled water. Remember a child should be fed and put to bed, but not put to bed and fed.
Sippy cups are just as bad. For infants fruit juice should be diluted to five parts water to one part juice. If you must give a bottle at night, then teach your baby to only take water at night.
Another common form of sugar that is often overlooked is cooked starch-the flour in crackers, cereals, chips, and junk foods in general. Give your child whatever you feel is right and healthy but be sure to clean their teeth and gums afterwards. With younger babies wrap a moistened gauze square or washcloth around the finger and gently massage the gums and gingival tissues. Yes, kids can also get gum disease.
The Truth About Thumb Sucking
Thumb sucking may be comforting to your child and it is a tough habit to break, but thumb sucking can put pressure on tiny teeth and start pushing them forward, which may lead to braces or tooth removal.Unless your child sucks its thumb quite vigorously, don’t worry too much about it. Most children stop thumb-sucking on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. Some continue the habit longer, but peer pressure in school is often a very effective deterrent.
Your Baby and Teeth Care
Baby teeth need just as much care—if not more—as adult teeth. The enamel on your child’s tiny teeth is 50% thinner than the enamel on your teeth, so once decay begins, it does more damage, more quickly. If left unchecked, it can then turn into a cavity.
White spots on baby teeth should never be ignored. White spots are often one of the firsts signs of tooth decay in children. This occurs as the result of enamel demineralization when acids from the plaque harm the tooth enamel. Some white spot lesions are signs of active tooth decay, while other white spots have a “chalky” appearance as the tooth is not as glossy as other teeth. Children with white spot lesions are considered to be at a high risk for cavities.
Don’t worry just yet, there are various ways to prevent these white spots from progressing.
Treatment focuses on helping the affected teeth to re-calcify. The best and most effective way to re-calcify these areas is by the application of topical fluoride.
This can be accomplished by cleaning your child’s teeth as soon as they erupt with a “smear” of fluoride toothpaste. It should be done twice a day, after breakfast and then right before bedtime.
Parents are often unsure about when to take a child to a dentist. Frequently they wait until there is a real problem, which at this stage is most likely to be an abscess.You should bring your child for a first visit as early as 12 months and not later than at an age 3. The first visit is likely to be just a check-up and it should help your child build trust in dentist and dental care. Don’t bring the child for the first time when there is a problem as it could associate visits to a dentist with painand avoid visits in the future.
The Irish Times published an interesting article on the alarming level of tooth decay among young children.