Dental care for young children
Your child’s teeth are as important as permanent teeth and require daily care. Also called primary or baby teeth, they allow your child to chew and speak properly. They reserve the correct space in the gums for the eruption of permanent teeth. The primary molars need to be kept until the child is 11 to 13 years old. Daily care is needed so your child does not lose primary teeth too early due to decay (caries). Caries in primary teeth is commonly caused by prolonged contact of sweet liquids, food acids or foods with the teeth.
Early childhood caries (ECC) An infant of young child with tooth decay, dental fillings or missing teeth due to decay has ‘early childhood caries’ (ECC). The main risk factors for ECC are:
- settling baby to sleep with a bottle of milk, sweet flavoured milk, cordial, soft drink or fruit juice. Bacteria feed on the sugar in these drinks and form a sticky coating of plaque. Plaque acids eat into tooth enamel and cause decay
- night-time bottle feeding or frequent at-will breastfeeding past the age of about 12months
- a high sugar diet with frequent snacking or ‘grazing’
- certain oral health problems, such as dry mouth (lack of saliva) and mouth breathing
- lack of good brushing and flossing
- sleep behaviour problems
Regular Dental Check-ups are important for all children, especially if your child has risk factors for ECC. Without treatment, your child may develop toothache, infection and dental abscesses, and lose teeth too early. Missing teeth in a your child can result in serious orthodontic problems of the permanent teeth, requiring extensive and costly treatment. The risks of ECC are reduce with:
- thorough daily brushing and flossing
- a balanced diet and good nutrition
- low fluoride toothpaste
- regular visits to the dentist
Tips to prevent Early Childhood Decay
- Clean you child’s teeth before bedtime.
- Offer a bottle of plain water of a dummy if your child likes to such on something while settling to sleep. Do not dip a dummy in honey or other sweet syrups, jam or similar products.
- Teach your child to drink from a cup by about 12months of age.
- Phase out bottle feeding by the age of about 12months.
- Encourage your child to drink water, as fruit juice contains a lot of sugar. Limit it to one half cup per day, preferably diluted. Give it at mealtimes only. Do not let the baby sip juice all day as this can cause severe decay.
- You child’s first visit to the dentist should be at about 1 years of age.
Oral hygiene for your baby
- Oral hygiene stays at birth. Gently wipe your baby’s gums with a warm moistened face washer after every feed. Once the primary teeth starter to erupt, you may switch toa babies’ toothbrush with a small head and soft, rounded bristles. Brush the teeth with plain water. Sharing spoons or testing baby’s food with the same food can transfer decay causing bacteria to your child. Keep a set of spoons for your baby’s use only. Wash a dropped dummy under running tap water. Don’t clean it in your mouth.
Hygiene for parents
- Children tend to imitate their parents behaviour. If good nutrition, oral hygiene and dental care are important to you, they will be important to you your child. Talk to your child about the importance if healthy teeth. A child who understands that permanent teeth have to last a lifetime is more likely to take care of them.
- Supervise your child’s brushing and flossing until you are confident that he or she can do it alone; this may be about age eight to ten. Set a timer to ensure that teeth have been brushed for an adequate amount of time. This should be 2 minutes, or 30s for each quadrant of the mouth.