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Young boy in a dental surgery

“Give me the children until they are seven and anyone can have them after that.” – St. Francis Xavier

This is an old adage that speaks volumes on how influential these early years are on a child’s behavioural, physical and psychosocial development with a view to inculcate habits that may well last an eternity.

Children need healthy teeth to help them chew and to speak clearly. Healthy teeth can also boost their confidence, allow adult teeth to erupt in sequence and in the right direction by acting as space maintainers. The oral cavity acts as a gateway to the body!

Gum disease is extremely rare in children and if diagnosed, is often associated with a syndrome or immune disorder, which may result in the loss of their teeth. It is caries (tooth decay) that are rampant in children, with no predilection, striking the rich and the poor worldwide. Cavities are holes that are formed when bacteria called streptococcus mutans start residing in the mouth and use the sugar in food to make acid that eats away at the teeth.

Children are at risk of getting cavities if they eat a lot of sugary and sticky foods and/ or drink a lot of sweet sugary fluids. A child can be at a further risk if he or she has any of the following risk factors:
  • Premature or low birth weight
  • Are of special health care needs
  • Have spots that are brown or white on their teeth
  • Irregular or poor visits to the dentist

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: (NIH), ‘forming good habits at a young age can help your child have healthy teeth for life’.

Below are a few tips that you should keep in mind.

Brushing the Right Way: Teach them good habits of brushing in the right way and start using a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste when they are two years old. Start sooner only if a dentist suggests it, as young children tend to swallow toothpaste, and swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can cause permanent stains on their teeth. Teach children brushing without making it too much of a chore.

Encourage good eating habits: Educate children to avoid sweets, sticky foods and between-meal snacks. Encourage them to opt for fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, crackers and even cold cuts. The message here is to look at snacks that are not cariogenic (foods that encourage caries formation) and are preferably fibrous in consistency. In fact, with diseases like diabetes on the rise worldwide, it is imperative to let children live a lifestyle that is healthy!

Give them a baby cup: Baby bottles filled with juices or milk can create additional problems, as the natural and artificial sugars stay in contact with the teeth for a long time. This can cause rampant tooth decay. Never put a baby to bed with a bottle. Do not allow him/her to walk around during the day with a bottle. teach your child to use a drinking cup around his or her first birthday.

Visit the dentist when they are still babies: The American Dental Association recommends that parents take their child to a dentist no later than his or her first birthday. Thereafter, subsequent visits will give the dentist a chance to look for early problems with your child’s teeth, review important information about diet, bottles, teeth brushing and fluoride use as well as help your child become comfortable with his or her dentist. This establishes the good habit of regular dental check-ups and also to consider referral to a pediatric dentist who specialises in treating children’s dental health.

Encourage children to give up bad oral habits: Children should be encouraged to give up habits such as thumb sucking or lip biting after the age of four and look for tongue thrusting habits, so that early management can prevent disturbances in the position and function of a child’s teeth.

Good dental practices begin with the parents. The tips outlined should help to make it easier for your child to enjoy great dental health.

By Dr Kaizad Kermani

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