Every child is at risk of tooth decay. The enamel (hard outer layer) is much thinner and softer on baby teeth, making them at greater risk of decay. The good news is that tooth decay, although prevalent is largely preventable.
In this issue, we will discuss the prevention of tooth decay in children.
Baby teeth help children to eat and speak. They also guide the permanent adult teeth into position, so it is important to take care of your child’s teeth right from the start.
Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugars from foods and drinks. These bacteria produce acid, which damages the enamel. Saliva helps to repair this damage, but if over time there is more damage than repair, it leaves a cavity in the tooth.
Dental decay is the number one reason why children ages five to nine are admitted to hospitals. These children suffer through thousands of operations to surgically remove rotting teeth. The public costs in these preventable cases are staggering. When a child’s oral health suffers, so does school performance, because children who are in pain cannot pay attention to teachers and parents.
The tooth decay process is also called ‘caries’. In the early stages the teeth can develop white chalky areas. In the later stages, teeth have brown or black areas. The upper four front baby teeth are most commonly affected.
Other names used to refer to small children’s cavities are ‘nursing bottle caries’ and ‘baby bottle decay’.These names are used because early childhood cavities can occur if babies and infants are put sleep with a bottle of milk or formula (or other sweet drinks). In these situations, milk will pool in the mouth and the lactose sugar in milk feeds the bacteria that cause decay as the baby sleeps. Saliva flow is low during sleep, and so does not protect against damage.
Here are some dental health tips to prevent childhood tooth decay:
- Remove your baby from the breast or bottle when finished feeding.
- Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle.
- Never put sweet drinks in a baby’s bottle.
- Never dip pacifiers in sweet substances, such as honey, jam or sugar.
- Ask your pediatrician or dentist for sugar-free medicines where possible.
- Examine your child’s mouth regularly to spot early signs of decay.
Start training your child to drink from a feeding cup at about six months of age. By 12 months, they should be drinking only from a cup. You can help prevent tooth decay in young children by introducing healthy eating and cleaning habits early. Cleaning and brushing your child’s teeth helps to remove the bacteria that cause decay.
It is important to start to clean your baby’s teeth as soon as the first tooth comes through the gum. Use a wet cloth or a small children’s toothbrush with water. From 18 months to six years of age, use a small pea-sized amount of children’s low-fluoride toothpaste on a small, soft toothbrush. At six years of age children should be supervised while they brush with a pea-sized amount of standard fluoride toothpaste. Brush teeth and along the gum line twice a day; in the morning and at night before bed.
The key to managing children’s teeth is to think prevention.
Since their teeth are more cavity pruned it is recommended that children have a dental check by age two. Early dental care and good home care goes a long way toward a lifetime of optimal dental health and wellness.
Dr. Kendal V. O. Major is Founder and CEO of Center for Specialized Dentistry which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in Nassau and Freeport. He is the first Bahamian Specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He also is a certified Fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, Nassau at (242)325-5165 or [email protected]