Early childhood caries is a devastating form of dental decay affecting children below the age of five. The reason is linked to poor oral hygiene practice, improper feeding habits, lack of parental awareness, and avoiding a dental visit. Poor oral health can affect the general health of the baby, as it can cause problems in eating, leading to the low weight of the child.
Dentistry has evolved to a point where prevention of dental caries is now achievable. However, this requires an early start, as early as, when the child is in the mother’s womb. Here are a few guidelines to ensure better oral hygiene in the child.
It has been scientifically proven that there is a relationship between the oral health of the mother and child. Pregnant women need to be vigilant about their oral hygiene.
- Brush twice with fluoridated toothpaste.
- In the case of morning sickness and vomiting, rinse it with water and baking soda.
- Resist sweet cravings to prevent tooth decay
- If you are prone to gum swelling and bleeding, consult a dentist, and undergo a clean-up/scaling procedure
- Dental procedures are safest during the second trimester
Child age: 0-1 years
- Even if the child doesn’t have teeth, clean the child’s gum pads with a clean cloth.
- The child should be only breastfed for the first six months.
- The child’s first tooth erupts at the age of 6-8 months. Teething signs may include irritability, drooling, excess salivation.
- To comfort the child during teething, use a clean and chilled teether, cold and thick carrot, or cold and clean cloth to bite on.
- Avoid using teething gels that are available without consulting a dentist.
- Once the tooth erupts, start brushing twice daily.
Child age: 1-3 years
- Start the procedure of weaning the child from breast milk.
- Slowly stop breastfeeding at night, as and when the child demands.
- Use sippy cups and not bottles to feed the child.
- The child should never be put to sleep with a bottle in mouth.
- Minimise the number of time your child’s sweets, and chocolate cravings, i.e., if the child wants two chocolates, give both together during lunch. Do not give one at lunch and one in the evening.
- If using a pacifier, do not dip it in honey.
- Do not share spoons with your child. Dental decay is contagious.
Child age: 3-5 years
Your child’s toothpaste should have 500-1000 ppm fluoride. Read the toothpaste composition, and look for sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride or sodium mono fluoro-phosphate.
- Visit a paediatric dentist, and start with fluoride varnish application twice a year.
- Be vigilant about your child’s diet. Diet counselling with a paediatric dentist can be scheduled at this point.
- Now, the child has learned to walk and run, and hence, dental trauma is common. In case of any fall, or dental injury, report immediately to a paediatric dentist.
Child age: 6-9 years
- The child’s first permanent tooth erupts at the age of 6-7 years.
- Consult your dentist for pit and fissure sealant. It is the most effective method to prevent caries in permanent molars.
- Report to a dentist if your child has a habit of sucking a thumb or breathing from mouth.
- Introduce dental floss, and mouth wash to your child as a part of oral hygiene practice.
Remember that a permanent tooth can be put back into place if it falls out due to trauma, fall, accident. In case your child’s permanent tooth has come off, keep the tooth in a bowl of milk or child’s mouth, and report immediately to a dentist.
Child age: 10-13 years
Check the alignment of the child’s teeth. It is the right time to meet an orthodontist. The earlier you consult the orthodontist, faster, and easier the procedure will be.
- Maintain a diet plan with minimum sugar exposure.
- Motivate your child for oral hygiene.
- Visit a dentist twice a year.
Good oral hygiene should be made into a habit for children. It will ensure long-lasting oral health for the child even during adulthood.
Do not underestimate the importance of milk teeth. They play an important role to ensure healthy permanent teeth, and also the perfect speech in the child.
Visit a paediatrician, and a paediatric dentist at least once a year to understand the dynamic changes your child will go through. It will help you to prepare yourself beforehand.
Do not create fear of dentists in the child’s mind. Avoid talking about your experience in front of them.
Introducing dentistry, as mentioned above, will ensure good oral health, positive dental attitude, good rapport between your child and dentist, all of which will eventually enhance general health. A healthy mouth is necessary for a healthy body.
With inputs from Dr Nirali Mehta Ajmera