Despite advances in tooth hygiene, one in four children develops cavities before they start school and half of all children between the ages of 12 and 15 have some sort of tooth decay. Thus, many parents wonder: “How to ease teething and avoid baby bottle decay?”, “What foods to choose and what to avoid?”, “When should child’s dental care begin?”, “When should it first see a dentist?” Fortunately, there are simple ways to keep teeth strong and healthy from childhood to old age. Here is how:
A child’s dental health really starts during his or her mother’s pregnancy, because baby teeth begin to form during the third month of pregnancy. Therefore, pregnant women must eat a balanced, nutritious diet with an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals. Also, it is very important for pregnant women to treat cavities or gum disease because unhealthy teeth can affect the baby.
Your child’s teething usually begins at about 6 months of age, although it can vary among children. All of the 20 primary teeth should erupt between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. The first permanent teeth usually start coming out at the age of 6 and the last between the ages of 12 and 21.
Dental care should begin as soon as a child’s first tooth appears, usually around six months. Experts recommend that your child sees a dentist by its first birthday because your doctor will be able to assess the likelihood of your child having future dental problems. The assessment may include the mother’s dental condition and dental history because it can often predict the child’s teeth. Your baby should have regular check-ups every six months or as your dentist recommends.
Teething causes most children pain and babies may even develop a fever. To help reduce the pain caused by teething you can use special gels. Gently apply the teething gel using your finger onto your baby’s gums. Teething rings can also help to soothe the baby. If pain is severe, check with your dentist.
As soon as the first baby teeth start to appear, you should start cleaning them and by doing so tooth decay is unlikely to be a problem. At first you can use a piece of clean gauze or cloth wrapped around your forefinger. As you child grows and more teeth appear, you can use a baby toothbrush with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and gently apply it around the teeth and gums. As your child gets older, gradually give him/her more responsibility for cleaning their teeth. Some dentists advise that parents brush their children’s teeth until the child develops the fine motor coordination skills, e.g. can neatly write his or her own name. Other dentists recommend that between ages 6 and 8 kids should keep their teeth clean and healthy independently. Whatever approach you think suits your child best, always use an infant toothbrush and only a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste because fluoride helps to strengthen teeth. The child should brush before bedtime and not eat or drink until next morning. When two teeth touch each other, the child should also floss between the teeth and your dentist will recommend when to start using mouthwash.
To avoid “baby bottle decay” the feeding bottle must be sterilized properly. Some breast milk substitutes contain sugar and thus you should clean your baby’s teeth an hour after the last feed. Milk and water are the best drinks for teeth. Never add sugar or put sugary drinks into the bottle since it can lead to ‘bottle caries’ (tooth decay). So, should you start taking away the bottle a.s.a.p.? Definitely! Early weaning from the bottle is the best way to help prevent baby’s potential dental problems. When the baby is about 6 months old, or when they are able to sit and hold things on their own, try to introduce him/her with milk or water from a special cup. When it comes to food, avoid giving your child foods and drinks that contain sugar because it is better for its teeth. Keep in mind that babies are not born with a sweet tooth and will only develop a taste for sugar if it is given to them at an early age. A far better option than sweet foods is savory foods such as vegetables, cheese and pasta. Instead of juices, give your child water. Juices should be given as treats, not as a regular daily fluid. Also, pay special attention to teeth when the baby is ill, because many medicines are sugar-based.
If you can, avoid using a pacifier, dummy or soother and discourage thumb sucking because these can eventually cause problems with teeth growth and development and your child may need braces when it gets older. If your baby cannot be without a pacifier, dummy or soother, make sure it is an ‘orthodontic’ one that reduces the risk of these problems. Never dip your baby’s pacifier into honey, fruit syrups and juices or anything containing sugar.
Many parents have difficulties when taking their child to the dentist. So, how to make a dental office a non-threatening environment for your child? To ensure your child will always have regular dental hygiene and check-ups, it is extremely important for the child to learn to have confidence in the dentist. You can discuss with your dentist what would be the best option. One of the possibilities is to take your child to your own routine check-ups. This will help the child to get used to the surroundings and future visits will be far more relaxed.
Healthy dental habits have to be introduced from the earliest age on. Parents should always be a part of their child’s dental routine. At the beginning more, and as the child grows, teach him or her to be independent. However, always monitor what and how the child is doing. Children also learn from example, so as a parent you need to be a role-model in a healthy dental routine.