Appropriate dental hygiene contributes to the healthy growth and development of children. Although permanent teeth grow to replace baby teeth, nevertheless, healthy baby teeth are important to maintain.
Pediatric Tooth Decay
Although studies have indicated that the oral health of adult Americans has generally improved in recent years, there has been an increase of the incidence of tooth decay among children, particularly preschoolers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published findings in 2005 revealing that tooth decay is the most chronic disease among children aged 5 to 17. Severe tooth damage can occur in toddlers as young as two and half years. Infants are also affected by oral health problems.
Tooth cavities are common in children but are fully preventable. If left untreated, cavities can lead to further tooth decay, chronic pain, misaligned permanent teeth, and infection that can result in abscess or even death.
Bacterial Cause of Decay
Streptococci mutans are a group of infectious bacteria that has recently been found to act as the main cause for pediatric tooth decay. The bacteria destroy the calcium and phosphate found in the tooth enamel and dentin that protect the tooth.
The growth of these bacteria is promoted by a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates, as well as poor brushing and flossing habits. The bacteria enter the baby’s mouth through the transfer of saliva soon after the first tooth appears, around six months of age. Most often, the saliva is that of the mother or caregiver. The transfer may take place by sharing a spoon, or when the baby uses a pacifier that has been cleaned in the mother’s mouth. It may even occur after the mother kisses her baby’s head, when the baby picks up the saliva on his or her hand and transfers it to the mouth.
Diet and Oral Health
Foods containing sugars (such as candy, cake, cookies, juice, and milk) and starches (such as potato chips and pretzels) can contribute to tooth decay. Because it is more difficult to clean babies’ and children’s teeth, food debris tends to remain between the teeth, resulting in bacteria growth and eventually tooth decay.
In rare instances, babies have neonatal teeth emerge during the first month. Neonatal teeth require dental care or need to be removed by the dentist. Usually, one or more baby teeth erupt by six months of age.
Babies begin teething when they are six to 24 months, indicated by biting on objects, irritability, drooling, and ear pulling. Baby teeth need to be cleaned regularly. Parents can help teething progress by massaging the child’s gums, and letting them use a chilled teething ring or cold, wet washcloth. Your dentist may also recommend a teething ointment to soothe the irritability.
Most if not all baby teeth emerge by three years of age. Not long after they turn four, children’ss jaws and facial bone structures begin to grow, making room for permanent teeth to appear. From the ages of six to 12, children’s mouths usually contain both baby teeth and permanent teeth.
Taking Care of Children and Infants’ Teeth
Taking care of children’s teeth begins as soon as the first tooth erupts. As they grow, children should learn the importance of dental hygiene, and be encouraged to brush their own teeth when they are able to do so.
- Baby Teeth Cleaning: After every feeding, clean your baby’s teeth and gums with a soft washcloth or gauze. Ask Dr. Hong for dental hygiene recommendations. Child-sized toothbrushes with small bristles are available to use on your baby’s teeth, after soaking the brush in warm water.
Until your baby reaches approximately six months, use water without fluoride to clean teeth. Use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on your baby’s teeth. When they are older and have better coordination, encourage your children to brush their own teeth. If they are given medicine, children’s teeth should be brushed afterward, as medicines contain acids that wear down protective tooth enamel. Remember to have toothbrushes replaced every two to three months.
- First Dental Visit: By the time your child is one, he or she should have seen a dentist in order to put in place a long-term plan for dental hygiene and professional dental cleaning.
- Dental Flossing: Once your child has two teeth erupt side by side, you should help your child with dental flossing. Around the age of six, children usually are able to floss independently.
- Non-preservative Mouth Washing: Mouth washing is usually appropriate by the time your child is seven, provided he or she can perform the activity.
- Orthodontics: Orthodontics may be suitable when your child is approximately seven nine years of age.
Note that these age ranges are estimates only; follow your dentist’s recommendations for your child’s dental care.
Keys to Preventing Tooth Decay in Children
Children’s tooth cavities are treated with similar procedures used with adults, namely, tooth fillings and restorations. More important, however, are preventive measures that are significant in controlling tooth decay.
These preventive measures include dental checkups and maintaining a healthy diet. It is important that meals are well-balanced in the amounts of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and eggs. Try to avoid sugar-rich foods and beverages if possible.
Here are some ways you can encourage good oral hygiene practices with children:
- Supervise your children’s tooth brushing until they can demonstrate that they are proficient in brushing on their own, around the age of six.
- Check the teeth every month for demineralization, the first sign of tooth decay. It can be identified by horizontal white or brown lines or spots close to the gums. These marks may appear on the inside surfaces of the upper teeth in nursing babies. They are frequently spotted on biting surfaces or in between permanent teeth in children. Come and see us as soon as possible to treat the area with Ozone, which may prevent a cavity.
- Again, we may recommend using ozonated olive oil during or after brushing and flossing. You can purchase Ozonated olive oil from our office.
- Xylitol, a natural sweetener, has been shown to reduce the effect of streptococci mutans. Clinical studies indicate that streptococci mutans are decreased in the saliva of mothers and other caregivers who start chewing high-concentration Xylitol gum three months after the baby is born. Saliva transferred to the baby will thus be less likely to contain bacteria. Older children who can chew gum or suck on Xylitol drops may also benefit. You may purchase high-concentration Xylitol products at our office.