Human beings have two sets of teeth: primary (or milk teeth) and permanent teeth. The milk teeth usually start to appear between 5-8 months and the permanent at 6 years of age with girls slightly ahead of boys.
It is the duty of parents to take care of their children’s teeth because:
- Children develop complete motor skills by the age of 10 years
- The integrity of milk teeth is essential for the health of permanent teeth
- Milk teeth are more prone to dental decay (caries or cavities) than permanent teeth
Teething starts with the appearance of lower or upper front teeth at which time the parents should start cleaning the teeth with a damp washcloth after every feed especially before sleeping. The American Association for Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) found that only 1 in 3 mothers considered oral health to be of any concern for their infants. They also recommend weaning infants of bottles by 12-14 months age and having them drink through a cup to avoid crooked teeth. Avoid at-will breast-feeding after first baby tooth appears and other foods are introduced. Kids over 1 year age should be given less frequent mother’s milk feed but the daily amount shall be unchanged by feeding them every 4-5 hours rather than whenever they cry for it.
Modern food habits have led to an increase in the intake of refined sugars, which are really harmful for teeth. Parents should advise children to limit sugars in the form of candies, carbonated drinks, and sticky foods like gums, biscuits and jellies. These products are not easily washed off with saliva and keep on sticking to the teeth making them more risk prone.
Fluoride content in water is also a big breakthrough in caries prevention. As much as 60% of America had fluoridated water supply (optimum being 1ppm) and this has shown to decrease the caries by almost 50%. For information on your local water supply levels of Fluoride contact your water department. If sufficient fluoride is not available in drinking water, supplements like tablets, mouthwashes, toothpastes are available. Teeth should be brushed 2 times a day (morning and evening before bed time) with child on parents lap or standing in front facing the mirror. One hand should stabilize the head and the other gently brushing the teeth; and the areas between the teeth and the gums (most common place for plaque deposition).
Children should be encouraged to start brushing at the age of 2-3 years with proper follow-up by the parent. At first the children would want to brush themselves and later would run away from the work. Encouraging the child that they are doing great. Positively rewarding them (by taking them out, doing a fun activity or a no sugar candy) can reinforce the habit of brushing. Negative reinforcement should be used. A child who avoids or carelessly brushes their teeth should be educated about importance of clean teeth and this can this be aided by showing them pictures and videos of an unhealthy mouth.
Flossing can be carried out once everyday by the parents with the help of soft flexible dental floss for kids and working around the teeth gently.
Many children have oral habits like thumb sucking, finger sucking, tongue thrusting, mouth breathing, or lip biting. The parents should face these habits with patience and care. Visit a dentist if the habit persists beyond age 4-5 years as these can have serious implications on facial profile and crowded crooked teeth.
According to Community Dental Care and Prevention, more than 1 in 4 children have tooth decay by age 5. The first dental visit should be done by age 1 year so that it familiarizes the child to the dental setup and relieves their anxiety of a dentist who provides the parents and kid with valuable information and precautions on oral home care. If the dentist requires, the recalls can be carried out every 6 months or after 4-5 years of age.
If your child complains of a toothache, you can give your child symptomatic relief from pain by over the counter acetaminophen (paracetamol) till you can consult their dentist. Decayed teeth should be attended to as soon as possible, as timely treatment can save a lot of impeding stress and intervention. After all, a healthy mouth and a happy smile from your child can ease away the creases on your forehead.